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Reactions to weekend shooting violence, deaths

By Shavonne Walker & Amanda Raymond
news@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Just two days after 7-year-old A’yanna Allen was shot and killed inside her Harrel Street home, area ministers and community leaders are left with more questions, the biggest of which is why?

While there is no easy answer, the hope leaders say lies in working together to effect change.

“My challenge is we keep saying community — that’s one body or unit that comes together. We’ve got to take full responsibility for our community and love our community. There is a whole slew of bad, but a lot of good is going on,” said Pastor Tim Bates.

Bates is the creator Night Crawlers, a group made up of area ministers and local leaders who gather each Friday night to walk through different neighborhoods in the city to pray and counsel with residents there.

“It’s heart wrenching to know that we’re comfortable with things and that it’s something else that happened,” Bates said.

“We take pride in the wrong thing. We are afraid to graduate from high school and do great on SATs and are not afraid to pick up a gun,” he said.

He encouraged people to become proactive and involve themselves and their children in activities like the men’s mentoring group, Man Up Monday; the Tsunami Development Literacy Program, the mentoring program Gemstones/COMPASS and the human relations firm, the Human Praxis Institute.

Bates is also a part of Man Up Monday, a mentor program he created, and said he initially didn’t recognize A’yanna Allen after hearing of her death. Bates quickly learned she was the bright, bubbly student who’d always smile and wave at he and the other mentors as they regularly walked through Koontz Elementary School.

One possible solution is “if the community could come together,” said Tristan Rankin, a mentor with Man Up Monday.

“It’s easier to say and harder to do, but that would be a start,” he said.

Rankin said while at Koontz on Monday many of the students were surprisingly positive. Although he doesn’t think they understand the totality of the violence in the community, they were able to express their feelings of losing a friend.

One of the students spoke with Rankin while in the cafeteria. He said he didn’t say anything, but just listened to her talk about her friend. The student said she felt as if A’yanna was an angel watching over the entire school. She even drew a picture depicting an angel and the school building.

Rankin said he didn’t know the girl, but grew up with her father, Antonio Jermaine “Shug” Allen, who was shot and killed in 2009 on Christmas Day.

The Rev. Clarence Marlin, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church, located not far from 200 Harrel St., the home of A’yanna Allen and her grandmother, Shirley Robinson.

Marlin said the grandmother and young girl were not members of his church, but had attended a few services there.

It is his hope that “this generation would learn to value human life,” he said.

“Shooting someone — that’s not the answer. Life is more important,” Marlin said.

Police have said just hours before someone fired into the Harrel Street home, someone shot and killed 22-year-old Sharod Mathis in the parking lot of Firewater Restaurant and Lounge, 122 Avalon Drive. He was taken to Novant Rowan Health Medical Center by a private vehicle where he later died.

Police have said very little about the incidents and have not confirmed whether the two city shootings are connected.

No arrest has been made in either shooting, but police say they are following leads and the investigation continues.

The tragic death of the young girl is reminiscent of the 2007 shooting that killed 13-year-old Treasure Feamster. Treasure was killed after gang violence erupted during a teen party. She was caught in the crossfire.

Following Treasure’s death, city leaders and the community gathered to discuss ways to combat gangs and gun violence, yet nearly 10 years later, city leaders are still trying to come up with ways to put an end to gun violence.

Police have not said whether this weekend’s shooting was the result of gang violence. When asked Police Chief Jerry Stokes said detectives are still investigating and he “will not be able to comment regarding gang involvement or motivation at this point.”

Stokes has been an advocate of community policing and partnering with the community to effect change.

“Community policing will certainly help the city overcome the issues of violent crime – solving community problems isn’t a police exclusive matter, it takes everyone being involved and working toward that goal,” Stokes said.

“We have a number of goals related to relationship building and community policing, some of those plans are on hold because we don’t have the staff to effectively do those things,” he said.

Stokes said there have been some setbacks in the department’s efforts to enhance community policing, but the department has been able to do some things to improve community policing. For example, patrol recently began a “got out of the car” campaign and officers are making concerted efforts to meet people in the neighborhoods they are working in to build relationships.

But, with “20 percent less staff we must do 20 percent less work,” he said.

Stokes said they’ve shifted officers around to cover the necessary roles including patrol and the criminal investigations division from areas such as the Community Resources Officers.

“That hurts our ability to do those extra things like be involved in community events that build our relationships as well,” he said.

Community leader Alvena “Al” Heggins, founder of the Human Praxis Institute, a Salisbury-based human relations firm, is in favor of a community policing plan.

“We need a community policing plan that is a collaborative effort between the black community and the police from inception to implementation. Then we will begin to see real change to this landscape of killing and crime,” Heggins said.

Heggins said she is heartbroken at the news of these recent shootings.

She said her sadness in no way scratches the surface of the pain the families who lost loved ones.

Mayor Karen Alexander said the violence that occurred over the weekend was “very troubling.”

“I think it’s a tremendous tragedy for the families of these victims,” she said.

She said she agreed with the piece David Whisenant wrote, which was published in Monday’s Post. She said she believed the solution may come from the faith leaders and activists working within the community, not necessarily from legislative actions or actions from the police department.

Alexander said “it’s not just a Salisbury issue, it’s a society issue,” and looking for the root problems will be the key to finding long-term solutions.

“My heart goes out to all of the families of the victims,” she said.

City Manager Lane Bailey said improving the police department was one of the most important priorities for the City Council. The council has approved pay raises for the officers and are looking for more officers to fill vacancies.

Bailey said Police Chief Jerry Stokes has been focusing on rebuilding trust between the police department and the community and encouraged citizens who had any information about the shootings to contact the police department or Crime Stoppers.

He called the violence a “horrible tragedy.”

“Everyone in the community should be upset over this,” he said.

Repeated attempts to reach family members was unsuccessful.

Anyone with information about these cases is asked to contact Salisbury Police Department at 704-638-5333, or Crime Stoppers at 1-866-639-5245.

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