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Cease Fire continues work to stop spread of gun violence in Salisbury

SALISBURY — When Vivica Chambers walked through Salisbury’s West End and Pine Hill Apartments Thursday evening, she was doing it for her children.

Part of a group of Salisbury residents, police officers and city staff, Chambers’ message was to start a cease fire after a spate of shootings to start the summer.

“I have two boys, and I try to let them see me doing positive things like this or let them know I’m doing positive things like this so they know they don’t have to be a part of this gun violence,” Chambers said. “Guns aren’t bad, but the way you use them can be a problem.”

The Salisbury-Rowan NAACP’s and police department’s Cease Fire program brings awareness to problems and programs designed to help reduce gun violence, she said. The two agencies relaunched the program in June with some changes after a pandemic-induced hiatus. In 2019, the program was called the Summer Cease Fire. Now, it’s a yearlong initiative that uses de-escalators and Salisbury Police crime analysts to target hot spots.

“A lot of people don’t know. At the end of the day, they just don’t know. Nobody has taught them the basic guidelines and morals of what to do with (guns), and that’s to protect yourself, but it’s just getting to a whole other level,” said Lexi Bruce, who joined Chambers on a walk through the West End and Pine Hill Apartments for the Cease Fire Initiative.

Participants knocked on doors, talked to residents, placed yard signs and handed out flyers and wristbands. NAACP President Gemale Black said data provided by the police department brought the Cease Fire to Horah and West 15th Street, where a man was shot one day earlier.

The Cease Fire program relaunched on June 25 — two weeks after a trio of homicides in the city limits. Since then, Salisbury has seen at least seven shootings involving property damage or a person being shot. Chief Jerry Stokes says the program will take time to produce results and likened it to stopping the spread of COVID-19.

The premise behind Cease Fire is a public health approach, he said.

“We just went through a pandemic and the public health approach is stopping the spread,” Stokes said. “So, that’s what the Cease Fire’s intention is. We went for a pretty long period without having it present, and we did have a pretty good result out of that.”

Salisbury saw a 20-year low in overall crime in 2019 and additional progress in 2020, but statistics also show a mixed bag. There were 33 incidents of shooting into an occupied dwelling in 2020 compared to 23 in 2019. Robberies decreased from 69 cases in 2019 to 46 cases in 2020, but murders increased from two in 2019 to six in 2020. After a pandemic-plagued year, Salisbury has already recorded several murders in 2021.

“As you can see, it went unchecked,” Stokes said. “With this reinvigoration, I know people are frustrated and scared, but these things take time to take effect … I’m sure we will see results of out of Cease Fire, but it’s only been a couple weeks.”

Stokes on Thursday afternoon spoke to the Post yards away from a car that a man drove to the Salisbury Police Department after being shot. A bloodied shoe sat on the pavement next to the car, which had blood stains and bullet holes on the exterior. Inside the car, there was blood on the driver’s seat and a handgun in the center console. Dried blood sat on the stairs leading into the police department.

“Guns are never a good alternative to settling a dispute,” Stokes said. “You can see the results of that unfortunately in Salisbury, where we have some gun crime issues. Unfortunately, it’s nationwide as well.”

Reducing gun violence in Salisbury requires more people involved in the Cease Fire initiative who are patrolling hot spots and places where problems haven’t sprung up, Black said.

“It’s just about community buy-in. We’ve got to get the community bought in. We need them to walk with us, canvass, let people know about Cease Fire,” Black said. “If you see something, say something. And you don’t just have to call the Salisbury Police Department directly. You can call the NAACP office, too.”

People should stop and think before reaching for a gun, he said.

“It’s OK if you want to use your hands instead. That’s bad, too, but we’d rather see hands than more gun violence,” Black said. “Before you think about getting the pistol out of the car or just pulling that pistol out, just think about it. You’re not only potentially taking that man’s or woman’s life, you’re going to take your own life away.”

City of Salisbury Human Relations Manager Anne Little joined the Cease Fire walk on Thursday evening, saying it’s professionally and personally important to her to support community efforts to curb gun violence.

“We can do nothing and sit around and say, ‘Gee, we’ve got to do something to try to stem some of the current tide’ or we can come out, talk with folk and, if nothing else, be present,” Little said. “I live here. So, beyond working for the city, this means something for me, too.”

Mae Carroll, who leads the J.C. Price American Legion Post and lives in the West End, was on Horah Street as police and Cease Fire volunteers passed by. She suggested the city of Salisbury restart its “Chit, Chat & Chew” program that included town-hall-style events across the city. Police also should call previously incarcerated men together for a meeting to talk about ways to reduce gun violence, she said.

“They know the streets. See, what we’re doing is we’re going on what we think rather than what we know,” Carroll said. “If we could get, I hate to say, some of the drug dealers and other people who are out and doing OK, if we could call them together, they would be able to help us more.”

It’s time for something innovative, she said.

People can report suspicious activity in their neighborhood by calling 911, anonymously turn in illegal firearms by calling Salisbury-Rowan Crime Stoppers at 866 639-5245, submit an anonymous tip about a crime at tips.salisburyrowancrimestoppers.org or contact the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP at 980 234-9843 or info@salisburyrowannaacp.org.

Stokes said people looking to get out of a gang or a criminal lifestyle can contact the Rowan County Project Safe coordinator, Lorenzo DeBose. His email address is lorenzo.debose@salisburync.gov.

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