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Locals plead with Salisbury City Council for gun violence relief

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — On the heels of another string of gun violence, a crowd of people on Tuesday filed into the City Council chambers to pour out their emotions.

During a lengthy public comment period, speakers expressed fear about children being inadvertently shot and killed; encouraged community members to work together; advocated for raising the pay of police officers above regional averages; and leveled sharp criticism against city leaders.

One woman even questioned whether it is time to call Gov. Roy Cooper, the National Guard and President Donald Trump for help.

The comments came after a string of incidents in which a car at Sonic Drive-in was shot at around lunchtime Monday; two people were injured in a Sunday shooting at a bar just outside the city limits; a Saturday shooting left one man dead on Oakwood Avenue; and two were injured in a Saturday shooting on South Shaver Street

Salisbury resident Emily Rivers was one of the many speakers Tuesday. Rivers encouraged people to work together rather than alone.

Latasha Wilks, a local pastor, asked that the city and residents form some sort of coalition to address crime-related issues.

“The violence is just getting out of hand,” Wilks said.

Wilks also invited City Council members to attend a community march at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Called “the Community Speaks March,” it will start at the Graffitti Wall on the corner of Main and Horah streets and focus on recent incidents of crime and violence.

Emelia Duren, who lives in the Hurley Park neighborhood, said she recently sent her son to go live with his father in Mooresville out of fear for gun violence.

“I would rather pack him up to go live with his father than to pack his clothes up after a funeral or to pack a bag to take to the hospital,” Duren said. “We live in a fairly safe area, and I’ve never had any problems, and all the experiences I’ve had with the police have been positive. But as a mother, a citizen, a taxpaying and homeowning citizen, I do not feel like my money is going toward anything for my household as far as the safety.”

Duren said she hears sirens and gunshots and doesn’t want her son to be a victim of gun violence.

Just before Duren spoke, Salisbury resident Michael Kirksey said it doesn’t seem as if anyone in politics has taken substantial steps to ensure the safety of young black men.

“What we have here is a continual, systemic problem that hasn’t been addressed by the locals or the state or the federal government,” Kirksey said. “It seems to be happening throughout this country. I’ve yet to see anyone in politics come up with some kind of protections that would increase the safety of young, African-American men. That seems to be the ones that are actually being killed.”

Local attorney and blogger Todd Paris called for the City Council to increase funding for the Police Department to provide raises that are greater than the average for surrounding communities. Paris said there’s a joke among criminal defense attorneys that it’s likely a Salisbury police officer won’t remain with the department if you can delay a case long enough.

East Spencer resident Carolyn Logan, who owns property in the city, lambasted council members on crime-related issues and pleaded with them to take action.

“I want to know what is it going to take for us to get safe?” she said. “Why is it that we can’t get somebody in here that is experienced in gangs? … People are shooting on Innes Street. That’s a main street, and anybody could have gotten shot. What do we have to do to ensure our safety? We’re paying taxes for it.”

Logan, who routinely speaks about crime during public comment periods, said after Tuesday’s meeting she continues to show up because she wants the city to hire police officers with experience combating gang violence.

At the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council discussed comments by members of the public with Police Chief Jerry Stokes. Most people at the meeting left immediately after the public comment period and did not hear the discussion.

Near the start of the conversation between council members and Stokes, Mayor Pro Tempore Maggie Blackwell framed the recent gun violence for the relatively new police chief.

“You’re new to this community, so you may not know how calm it was before, but this is unprecedented,” Blackwell said.

Council members talked about a wide range of topics. The first question was whether the City Council has provided adequate resources, including money, to the Salisbury Police Department. Stokes said yes.

The council also discussed the lack of new police officers across North Carolina. Stokes said the average number of new officers is 2,000 to 2,500. Last year, that number was just several hundred.

Councilman David Post said he recently spoke to officials from other North Carolina cities about shortages of police officers, which is a problem in Salisbury. Post said it’s also an issue in other cities. He said Statesville is short even more officers than Salisbury.

Stokes said the Salisbury Police Department is seeking state and federal help to deal with crime-related issues. Recruiting officers from other states is also a possibility, he said.

Editor’s note: this story has been updated to correct the day that a shooting occurred on South Shaver Street.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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