ISSUES 2014: The struggle with gang violence

December 31, 2013 

In response to the recent shooting death of teenager Jarrett Jackson and other local youths to violent crimes, the Bible Way Church of Atlas hosted a Unity in the Community Rally and Candlelight Vigil. The purpose of the rally was to promote tolerance and mutual respect among various Columbia communities while working together as a community. Bible Way Church of Atlas used the rally to increase awareness of various outreach programs that the church offers to young people in the community including mentorships, tutoring, gang prevention, teenage pregnancy prevention, peer pressure counseling and increasing literacy.

KIM KIM FOSTER-TOBIN — kkfoster@thestate.com Buy Photo

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Gang violence made a resurgence in people’s fears in 2013 after several high-profile shootings in which the suspects were identified by police as gang members.

In September, 22-year-old Amanda F. McKemie of Gaston died after being shot in the head while riding as a passenger in a car on West Campanella Drive in the Greenview neighborhood, Columbia police say. A teenager was charged with murder.

An 18-year-old was arrested for two incidents on the same day in May – for shooting at a pedestrian in the 300 block of Ferrell Drive and, later that evening, for firing shots into a residence when a mother and two of her children were at home.

Then, after the October shooting of University of South Carolina freshman Martha Childress, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Five Points had a gang problem, and that one bar seemed to be at the core of the problem. Merchants echoed the concern, asking city police to approach problems in the commercial village differently.

In 2014, there will be pressure for law enforcement to address the problem through tough enforcement and prosecution.

Mayor Steve Benjamin and City Council will decide whether to pursue federal injunctions against gang members, as some larger cities have. The city attorney’s office estimates it might take as long as one year for the city to get the crime data and information it needs to name the members it selects to be banned from protected areas and to persuade a judge about which gang members to include. A list of about 140 gang members would be whittled down to about a dozen gang members in each of the protected areas, Benjamin said. Each individual gang member must be presented with a judge’s order.

But others are working on plans to address societal problems that lead to gang participation.

For example, Bible Way Church of Atlas Road offers Generation NOW and Visionaries, boys’ and girls’ programs designed for ages 9-19.

And Benjamin has asked the city to expand its youth sports programs by creating baseball, softball, football and basketball leagues at all of its parks.

Other groups – the Columbia Urban League, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands, Mats 2 Men, Concerned Black Men of Greater Columbia, the 100 Black Men of Greater Columbia, Junior Achievement, Big Brothers Big Sisters, for example – also are working to help young people avoid bad decisions.

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