Kluttz, Wilhelm among city officials lobbying lawmakers today on anti-gang legislation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz and Police Chief Mark Wilhelm were part of an army of mayors and law enforcement officials who lobbied state lawmakers today in support of anti-gang laws and gang prevention programs.
The N.C. Metropolitan Coalition’s effort, which included Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the Republican nominee for governor, came hours before the N.C. Senate discussed the Street Gang Prevention Act on the floor this afternoon.
Several times at the group’s morning press conference in the Legislative Office Building, speakers mentioned the name of Treasure Feamster, the 13-year-old Salisbury girl who was shot and killed March 16, 2007, when she apparently was caught in crossfire between rival gang members.
Attorney General Roy Cooper introduced his remarks by referring to Feamster, and Salisbury’s strong community response to the girl’s death also was used to illustrate concern statewide about gang crime in cities, even those as small as Salisbury.
“We’ve never seen this kind of support,” Kluttz said of the large crowd backing the Metropolitan Coalition’s anti-gang effort. The coalition held a press conference in Salisbury last year after the anti-gang legislation passed the House but was stalled in the Senate.
Since then, on behalf of the coalition, Kluttz actively lobbied senators to consider the legislation and personally met with Cooper.
McCrory criticized the General Assembly for not enacting the legislation and made it a focal point of his primary campaign.
Both the Street Gang Prevention Act and legislation promoting gang prevention programs passed out of the Senate Rules Committee Tuesday, as Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, the Democratic nominee for governor, said through a spokesman that anti-gang legislation was one of her top priorities in the current short session.
A total of nine young men, ranging in age from 16 to 23, were arrested in connection with Feamster’s death. All but one are still waiting trial on charges that include first-degree murder, accessory after the fact and inciting a riot.
Meanwhile, reaction to the young girl’s death swept in waves over Salisbury. The sudden focus on gangs and youth violence drew state and national attention.
Churches, governments, law enforcement, schools, nonprofits, businesses, civic organizations and others asked themselves what they could do to address the gang problem and provide alternative choices for youth.
Led by Kluttz, the city of Salisbury gave them a forum. The city was host for June and November “Gang Summits,” which attracted hundreds of people for each session.
The summits identified eight areas of focus and assigned groups of people and resources to each. “Salisbury-Rowan United” now centers on law enforcement, job opportunities, mentoring, recreation, schools, parental support, community awareness and faith-based initiatives.