Editorial: Will this be wakeup call?

Published 12:07 am Monday, December 5, 2016

What a wretched twist of irony.

Saturday afternoon, people walked in a March for Love in downtown Salisbury. Full of optimism and hope, they carried signs with messages like “No Hate in Our State” and “We Are Better Together.”

Less than 24 hours later, three people lay shot dead in separate incidents, one near Enochville and two in Salisbury — including a 7-year-old girl.

Seven years old.

Young A’Yanna Allen was sleeping in the security of her grandmother’s home on Harrel Street when someone fired shots through windows and walls around 4 a.m. The grandmother was also hurt. The motive is unknown.

Salisbury has become immune to stories of young black men gunning each other down in the street. When bullets kill a 7-year-old and injure her grandmother, though, surely the entire city will wake up to the severity of the problem.

Like a pit bull, gun violence has locked its jaws on Salisbury and will not let go. In addition to A’Yanna, the death toll Sunday included 22-year-old Sharod Raheen Mathis of Spencer, shot in the parking lot of an East Innes Street restaurant. In Enochville, authorities found the body of 48-year-old Christopher Todd Rumple; two young Salisbury men are charged with his murder.

Authorities are not publicly connecting the dots. We don’t know whether or to what degree these killings might be related. Collectively, though, they make a strong statement about the need for action of some kind. This has been going on too long. Young A’Yanna was the daughter of  a man who was shot and killed on Christmas Day 2009, Antonio “Shug” Allen.

While we have all been stirred up about big-picture politics and the presidential election, a much more immediate problem was staring us in the face. The plague of poverty, guns, drugs and gangs has proved deadly, and it threatens to destroy Salisbury’s hopes for a prosperous future. That goes for Rowan County, too.

Identifying the problem is easy; coming up with solutions is the real puzzle. Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes has embraced community policing and better training for officers; those initiatives deserve support and resources.

This is not just a  police problem, though. Somehow we need to reach marginalized youth while they’re still young enough to be influenced in positive ways. Too many have been falling through the cracks — cracks that have grown into chasms — and they land in the clutches of gangs.

While police crack down on crime, community organizations that focus on youth should join hands to make sure they are reaching young people in need of guidance and hope. As the March for Love signs said, we are better together.