Community leaders call for unity to end gun violence

Jadah Brewer was an intelligent and precocious 8 year old girl. “Just a beautiful young woman,” her gifted and talented teacher Heather Rowland recalled Monday evening.

Brewer was on a summer program in June, working on a history project with his classmates where they wrote down their biographies and thought of someone they wanted to interview in the past.

For Rowland, one particular day this summer tragically stood out from the rest.

“She hugged me that morning, gave me a goodbye hug in the afternoon,” Rowland said.

Later that night, she learned that Brewer would not be returning to class. She had been shot dead in her home. The next day, Rowland had to discuss the incident with Brewer’s classmates.

“It’s very difficult to explain to them because there really isn’t an explanation,” said Rowland, standing on a podium in the Brandon Central Services boardroom. “… I want our children to feel safe at school and safe at home. They should be able to expect it.

“He’s just one of my kids,” she added. “I taught in this district for 14 years, and many of my students were in the newspaper because they were the ones who shot. My heart breaks for them too, because I knew them when they were in first grade.

Christina Shumpert, standing center, Columbus Municipal School District behavior specialist, sings Monday as Mayor Keith Gaskin and Superintendent Cherie Labat, seated right, watch the start of a community meeting on gun violence prevention held at Brandon Central Services. Franklin Elementary student CJ Taylor, left, rang 71 times to start the reunion, once for every student directly affected by gun violence in the past five years. Zack Plair / dispatch staff

At the start of Monday’s community meeting on gun violence, hosted by the Columbus Municipal School District, Brewer’s death was signaled by a simple chime on a bell – among 71 chimes, one for each CMSD student who was directly affected by gun violence in the past. five years as a victim or shooter. The sobering start to the meeting which drew in around 60 community members set the stage for the message Superintendent Cherie Labat hoped to get across.

Cherie Labat

“The impact of gun violence, especially among young people, traumatizes our children,” Labat said. “… It makes our school district a triage for the injured. … Until the most vulnerable children in this community are our top priority, change cannot happen.

“I promised myself at Jada’s death that her death and the death of every lost child would not be in vain,” she added. “The fury in my heart is for the students and educators who have been affected by gun violence.”

Statistics and perception
Statistics Columbus Police Chief Fred Shelton said the CMSD for the meeting showed a large, if not misleading, increase this year in shootings in the city – 348 compared to 58 in 2020.

However, Shelton clarified after the meeting that the 58 shots for 2020 were actual cases and the 348 for 2021 were the result of a department policy to generate a report for every call fired, whether there were any incidents. personal injury, property damage or an actual case generated from the call.

District Attorney Scott Colom, who sat with Shelton and several other community leaders on a panel for the meeting, noted gun crime has increased nationwide in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic , and he thinks the perception of crime in Columbus is always much worse than the reality. Still, he said, this year’s shooting incidents in Columbus are cause for concern.

Scott Colom

“What worries me the most (about them) is most of the time… the person who was shot, even the person who was shot, refused to cooperate with the police,” he said. he declared. “… We have had situations (where) people have been shot, in the hospital, at 16, ‘F the police. I do not say anything. I don’t know who shot me. Well, obviously you know who shot you.

Colom said the community needs to start having “tough conversations” about gun culture and youth access to guns. He said, for example, that he was suspended for three days after fighting while in college.

“The difference now is that the people involved in this fight tend to have guns or knives,” Colom said. “When you’re young you have a gun and your brain isn’t fully developed and you haven’t developed the (relationship with) your parents that you maybe should have, your self-control is lower than it should be, so you’re more likely to make bad decisions. And you have a gun, so that makes that bad decision worse than you could ever imagine.

When this type of violence occurs, he said, family, friends, teachers and classmates have to deal with it to the point of normalizing themselves.

“The worst thing that can happen to a child is gun violence is normal for him,” he said.

School programs and questions from the public
Monday’s meeting was essentially a call for the community to become more involved with young people and the school district to “get guns out of the hands of children.”

“We are not afraid of our students coming to school,” Labat said. “On the contrary, we fear what might happen when they return home. … We are as secure as the relationships we build, and we need everyone to find solutions to build community for all.

Part of this process was listing internal actions CMSD is already taking, such as partnering with community counseling services for crisis response and an anger management program for aggressive students. .

“Usually when gun violence occurs, it’s an act of emotion,” Labat said. “We understand that teaching our students how to deal with emotions is an important part of ending the problem of gun violence and violence in the community. “

The CMSD also requires students to enter the building using metal detectors at least three times a week, or more often after a major violent event has occurred in the community, Labat said. In response to a question from the public, she said days of metal detecting had not found any firearms brought to school, but had found knives and “gun paraphernalia” .

CMSD’s violence prevention program includes parent meetings and crisis intervention training for bus drivers, as well as focusing on what Labat called a key part of breaking the cycle – expose children to workforce development training that would provide them with opportunities to join the middle class into adulthood.

In response to further questions from the public, Labat noted that the district was evaluating options to hire more social workers and school resource officers for the district, as well as to “recalibrate” ORS pay to ensure staff. full.

CMSD is also partnering with the district attorney’s office for a restorative justice program, which Colom says is the first of its kind in the state. To explain how it works, he again turned to his own college combat experience.

“After our suspension, there was no communication from the school. … No one ever asked us why we were fighting, ”he said. “That’s what restorative justice does. He tries to tackle the root cause of the problem before it escalates into something worse.

A picture of unity
When speaking at the meeting, Lowndes County District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks presented the crowd with a photo taken in 2007, shortly after Columbus voters overwhelmingly approved a broadcast. $ 22 million bond to build a new college.

The photo shows community members gathered around the superintendent in support of public education.

Leroy brooks

“When you look at this photo, you see blacks, whites, young and old, but we were all together,” Brooks said.

Then he challenged the audience to reproduce the photo and his message on Monday, this time with Labat in the center.

“Let’s post this on Facebook,” he said. “Let people see that we support our superintendent and our school district. This is the message we need to send that we are all in the same boat.

About a third of the community members who attended volunteered to be in the photo that was taken after the meeting.

Brooks, along with several of Monday’s speakers, emphasized the importance of unity, community and parental involvement in mitigating the scourge of gun violence. He chairs the city’s crime prevention task force and on Monday asked for volunteers to help start a community-wide youth organization that would help distract children from violent activity.

“I am 68 years old,” Brooks said. “I could be on the shore fishing or golfing, but I don’t want anyone to shoot at my house. And I want nobody to disturb my granddaughter (elementary student at CMSD) because then I will have to go and react. And I’m too old to go to jail. So what I’m trying to be proactive, but we have to do it together.

Labat, in his closing remarks, called for community meetings like Monday’s to be held quarterly.

“I don’t want this to be a ‘one-off’ situation,” she said. “Our students deserve a quality of life worth living. … It is worth fighting for it.

Zack Plair is the editor of The Dispatch.

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