Columbia must act now on gun violence, the time for just talk is over
By: Rev. Carey A. Grady
On April 26, 2021, on Zoom, a network of 35 congregations and over 1,100 persons in the Midlands area assembled to discuss best practices and solutions for Mental Health, Affordable Housing, and Gun Violence. While the appropriate community stakeholders were present for Affordable Housing, Sheriff Leon Lott and Police Chief Holbrook were invited on several occasions but refused to attend. The Nehemiah Action is the largest and most diverse community gathering that happens in the Columbia area every year where over 1,100 people gathered who are deeply concerned about community issues.
We have a solution
Since the Nehemiah Action, three people were killed within twenty-four hours. Chief Holbrook and Sheriff Lott have called for community involvement and for congregations to come around the table to address this problem. We are already here. In 2019, over 500 of our members voted to research the problem and proven local solutions to gun violence. We have a solution, and yet the Chief and Sheriff have turned their backs on 1100 people who presented this solution.
The absence of the Sheriff and Police Chief at the Nehemiah Action is deafening because for the past few years MORE Justice was the organization encouraging and pushing local law involvement to get their officers trained in Crisis Intervention Training. While cities like Minneapolis after the controversial George Floyd murder called for Crisis Interventions Training (CIT), MORE Justice pushed the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and Columbia Police Department to train all of their officers in CIT in 2018. Both the Chief and the Sheriff pushed back on getting their officers trained in CIT. We were accused of trying to do police work. After a year of persistence, CPD went from having only 8 officers trained in CIT to over 150.
MORE Justice is rooted in a research, analysis, best practices & solutions philosophy all centered and focused on Justice. Our definition of justice comes from scripture. Justice is simply righting wrongs. Justice is more than raising money, raising awareness through a community town hall, or creating band-aid programming. While these things are happening, the homicide rate is rising.
MORE Justice does not want our law enforcement leaders and political leaders to treat our gun violence problem like a charitable problem. We want to pursue justice and get to the root cause of Gun Violence. The first step in any successful gun violence intervention strategy is to conduct a Problem Analysis alongside outside experts. This has not happened in Columbia or Richland County. The National Network for Safe Communities at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice is the largest and the most skilled organization as it relates to law enforcement consulting for gun violence is willing and able to perform a problem analysis on our Gun Violence problem.
The Chief of Police and Sheriff might think that by having this problem analysis, it will look as if they don’t know what they are doing. We need our Chief and Sheriff to display leadership by bringing in the experts to conduct a problem analysis so that we have clear next steps to address this problem. Telling African American clergy that the gun violence in the community is black on black crime and that clergy should tell our people from the pulpit to stop shooting and tell the police who is doing the shooting is not a solution. Persons involved in the gun violence aren’t in church so there goes that logic.
It is obvious there is a serious gun violence problem and that it is getting worse. It is time for our City to take swift action to get to the root of the gun violence that is plaguing our City. Again having town halls is not going to solve the problem.
Rev. Carey A. Grady, Reid Chapel AME Church / Co-President-MORE Justice