Gun violence in Lancaster, which culminated this week in the shooting death of a 2-year-old boy, is out of control and comparable to the wanton shootings of the “wild, wild West,” some Lancaster leaders say.
Now they’re demanding action and accountability from town residents and those involved in gunplay.
Toddler Jacarion Gladden died July 31 in a gun crime. Arrest warrants say a loaded pistol was left within reach of the child. And while the full details are still unknown, the incident has pushed Lancaster residents, police and community activists to a new level of frustration.
“Acts of violence, gun violence specifically, in the city and areas of the Lancaster County near the city, have put a dark cloud over Lancaster,” said Tamara Green Garris, a Lancaster City Council member who has been a lightning rod for concerned residents. She says some older residents are so scared that they’ve left neighborhoods because of the shootings, and others are afraid to come out of their homes.
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“The death of this child, a baby, is one of the worst tragedies this city has ever had,” she said.
Jacarion died of a fatal gunshot wound to the chest. His mother, Toni Gladden, 26, and her boyfriend, are charged with felony child neglect. Toni Gladden is charged with lying to police to cover up the shooting.
Arrest warrants show his mother’s boyfriend, Shazeem Hayes, 18, told police he had a gun that was used in the shooting. The toddler found the gun on a table and was shot, warrants say.
Probation officials and court records say Hayes is a convicted felon and barred by state law from having a gun because of his age.
‘Out of control’
Garris said the symptoms of gun violence are widespread.
She said constituents and police have told her of bullet-riddled homes and buildings, an outbuilding with weightlifters inside where bullets were sprayed, even a drive-by shooting within sight of the Lancaster Police Department.
“Gun violence in (the city of) Lancaster and the county near it, which people see as one place, is out of control,” Garris said.
The violent crime and gun problem has become so severe the S.C. Law Enforcement Division has sent extra agents to work Lancaster streets in high crime areas, said Thom Berry, a SLED spokesman. The agents generally focus on crime suppression, Berry said.
Scott Grant, police chief for the city of Lancaster, said he asked for SLED’s help to quell street and gun crimes. Police routinely work with the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office and SLED. They are working on “a variety of long-range operations and goals we believe will benefit the people of the city and Lancaster County,” Grant said.
Amid all of that, guns continue to haunt the city’s residents.
“The gun problem in Lancaster is a mess. Everybody has a gun out there,” said Tyrom Faulkner, executive director of the Lancaster Fatherhood Project, a group that works to help young men be responsible for themselves and their children. “The community is very disturbed. Gangs, drugs and especially guns. We have the whole nine yards in Lancaster.
“But this baby killed, this child, this is the worst yet. Without a gun in that house, it never would have happened.
“It’s like the wild wild West here now.”
The community is very disturbed. Gangs, drugs and especially guns. We have the whole nine yards in Lancaster. ... It’s like the wild wild West here now.
Tyrom Faulkner, Lancaster Fatherhood Project
‘A community problem’
In February, a woman was shot in what Grant called an “absolute senseless act of violence.” The woman was driving through an apartment complex parking lot.
In March, an India-born shopkeeper was gunned down outside his home in a crime where the defendants targeted “The Indian.”
In April, a man was killed and four teens arrested after a shootout outside apartments.
In June, a drive-by shooting that left two people dead.
And later in June, a high school student was shot outside a gymnasium.
On July 19, a teen shot at a fleeing woman and wounded her. Another person took video and put it on Facebook.
“We have a problem with children thinking having a gun in their hand makes them a grown man,” Grant said. “They act without concern for anyone. They seem to be without the ability to think past ‘right now.’ This is evidenced by the violence we have seen of late. Innocent people have been impacted. We have seen shootouts take place in our streets without any thought or consideration for the people around them.”
Randy Newman, 6th Circuit solicitor and chief prosecutor for Lancaster County, said his office is “going after” gun crimes committed by adults and juveniles with all the resources at his office’s disposal, which includes taking legal steps to prosecute juvenile weapon violators as adults. The office has trained one staff member to work as an assistant federal prosecutor to allow for tougher gun laws against defendants, Newman said.
Newman said “20 or 30 people at a community center or out in the street” will see a shooting. But nobody will give information to law enforcement officers.
“That is a community problem,” said Newman, a Lancaster native. “We need the public to step up, and if they see something, report it.”
He urges neighbors to be brave.
“We can’t be afraid. We can’t let these guys take over,” he said. “I don’t want to put people’s sons and daughters in prison, but for gun crimes, I will prosecute those cases. I’m taking a stand against guns. But the community has to take a stand, too.”
We need the public to step up, and if they see something, report it.
Randy Newman, chief prosecutor for Lancaster County
Gun violation laws
South Carolina gun laws are not as strict as federal laws, Newman said. An illegal weapon possession charge, no matter how many convictions, carries a one-year prison sentence.
By comparison, in cases of property crimes such as shoplifting, offenses after the third conviction can carry up to 10 years.
“The Legislature has tied our hands with the law,” Newman said. “Why is the penalty for repeat gun violation not as serious as the penalty for shoplifting?”
The death of Jacarion raises concerns for all people, said Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, D-Lancaster, who lives just two blocks from where the child was shot.
In June, a rising high school senior who grew up with Norrell’s children was gunned down at a basketball game in what police say was likely a gang dispute.
“This is my neighborhood, my home, just as it is for other people who want safe streets free of gun violence that is now so commonplace we seem to have a shooting every week,” Norrell said. “The level of violence has increased tremendously. We have an emergency problem right now.”
The shootings show guns in the wrong hands are part of the problem, Norrell said.
“Everybody is upset right now,” Norrell said. “Every time a shooting happens, every time a young person’s life ends so tragically, we hope it is the wake-up call. Well maybe this is the one people will hear.”
Garris and Norrell said stiffer sentencing for gun crimes is needed, and both want stricter gun control laws. They also said there is no way to get rid of the illegal guns in the community.
Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile said he agrees stiffer sentencing for gun crimes is needed, but he’s against stricter gun control laws. He said he wants enforcement of the law and cooperation from the public.
Another common theme is access to guns.
The gun in the July 19 shooting, captured on video, was stolen, Faile said. Police say most gun crimes use stolen guns or “street guns.”
Newman, who also favors tougher sentencing, agrees many of the cases involve illegal guns bought on the street.
“These guys are getting guns illegally, but it’s what we do after we catch them (with tough prosecution and stiff sentences),” that can lead to deterrence, Newman said.
Garris and Grant said another problem is “straw buys,” meaning a person legally buys a gun and gives it to someone with a criminal record or who is underage. Also guns can be traded for drugs, Grant said.
S.C. Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, who operates a lumber yard in Lancaster, has pushed a bill to make gun penalties harsher for repeat offenders and convicted felons. It has stalled in the Legislature.
“What has happened with the recent shootings is certainly concerning,” Gregory said.
Dean Faile, president and CEO of the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce, said theviolence has been “tragic and senseless,” and the child’s death has pushed the description to “heartbreaking.”
He said the recent problem has not reached the levels of 2012 when gun violence led to local and national media portrayals of the city and county as among the country’s worst.
Lancaster, where textile mill closings crippled the economy a generation ago, has sent people from community activist groups to Harlem in New York City to study revitalization of areas that recovered after being plagued by guns and crime.
“There are so many good things going on in Lancaster County,” Dean Faile said. “But there is a portion of the community that is struggling. We are all aware and seeking ways to find a solution.”
Still, business and political leaders say economics can’t be blamed. Lancaster County has had the highest job growth for a 12-month period in history, Dean Faile said, with the opening of the Haile Gold Mine, and several Indian Land and Lancaster businesses and factories.
The people involved in these crimes are not supposed to have guns to begin with because of their age, but they get them illegally.
Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile
While Sheriff Faile said crime in Lancaster County overall is down, including overall violent crime, Mike Lifsey, 6th Circuit public defender, said there is no denying Lancaster has a gun violence problem.
“There is a country song about a ‘pistol is the Devil’s right hand’ for a reason,” Lifsey said. “Misery, crying, pain for parents and grandparents, and many times prison, is what comes out of young people carrying guns.”
Grant said city residents are fed up with the violence.
“I am encouraged by the way this community is coming together,” he said. “I have never seen so many people out there all trying to find ways to work together and collectively address this issue.”
Lancaster city and county leaders, and community activists, praised the work by Lancaster Police Department and Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office office. Grant said, law enforcement -- even with cooperation from state and county officers -- can’t fix the problem alone.
“Make no mistake, we will play our part and do our duty, but the answer lies in all of us working together, defining what is acceptable in our society and what is not,” Grant said. “If kids are left to the streets, the streets will raise them. To paraphrase Frederick Douglass, it is time to start building strong children, instead of dealing with broken kids.”
This type of violence is something we cannot, and will not, tolerate in Lancaster. A 2-year-old is dead. What will we do about it?
Tamara Green Garris, Lancaster City Council member
Garris, who started a group called Lancaster Alternative Police Strategy to spur residents to trust and work with police, said the only way gun violence will drop is if residents do their part.
“This type of violence is something we cannot, and will not, tolerate in Lancaster,” Garris said. “A 2-year-old is dead. What will we do about it?”