The blood of our children cries out
for an end to youth violence
Anyone tired of burying teens violently cut down
before they’ve even begun to live?
Columbia has had to do that too often over the years.
The long list of teens who’ve lost their lives is reason enough to back
Mayor Bob Coble’s and others’ call to devise a communitywide answer to
gang and youth violence.
I recently looked back through The State’s archives, beginning in 1992,
and found more than a dozen instances — I know I missed some — in which
teens were gunned down, most often by other teens. The community
mourned, comforted the families, helped set up funds to bury the dead
when needed and vowed never to let such tragedy pierce our hearts again.
But it has — again and again and again.
- April: 17-year-old Latisha Yvonne Patterson was
shot to death outside a friend's house.
- March: Victor Bonner, 18, died from gunshot
wounds after having been shot in the front yard of his family’s New
- February: Brian DeWayne Wright, 15, was shot to
death at a Waffle House on Two Notch Road.
- October 2004: Robert Lee Morris Jr., 14, was shot
outside the S.C. State Fair and later died from complications from a
gunshot wound to the head.
- August 2004: Courtney Dixon, 12, and Terrence
Merchant, 16, were shot to death outside Courtney’s family’s home in
Columbia’s T.S. Martin community. (A jury recently convicted
21-year-old Chris Anthony Liverman, an admitted Folk Nation gang
member, in the shooting deaths.)
- November 1994: Tavares Spann, 16, was found shot
to death in woods in Northeast Richland.
- October 1994: Anand V. Kemraj, 17, was shot and
killed outside his home off Clemson Road.
- March 1994: Marcus Green, 16, died of at least
one gunshot wound when shots were fired into a crowd following an
argument at a party in Columbia.
- January 1994: 17-year-old Earnest Dunlap was shot
and killed in a hallway at Eau Claire High School.
- July 1992: The body of 15-year-old Marcus Paul
Golston was found. Authorities said they believed he died after
being shot and buried alive.
Leaders have repeatedly sounded the alarm.
In February, at Brian DeWayne Wright’s funeral, Pastor Darrell Jackson
of Bible Way Church of Atlas Road said the death was a call to action.
He announced the establishment of the Brian Wright Project to help turn
youths away from violence and drugs. “The Brian Wright Project is not a
coming-together of churches as usual,” he said, “but bringing young
people together all over the city.”
In August 2004, Mayor Coble and City Council members
E.W. Cromartie II and Tameika Isaac Devine were among about 100 people
who gathered at a vigil on behalf of Courtney Dixon and Terrence
Merchant. “Tonight, the city stands with Courtney and Terrence. We are
not going to tolerate this type of violence,” Mayor Coble said.
Following the July 1992 death of Marcus Paul Golston,
community leaders gathered at a news conference to respond. “The
community is shocked and devastated that this could happen in Columbia
because people thought something like that could only occur in a society
of lawlessness,” said Columbia Urban League President J.T. McLawhorn.
“His death is really a wake-up call to show us we can never become so
complacent that we think everything will be all right.”
But despite the repeated wake-up calls, we continue to
search for answers. That’s not to say we haven’t made efforts. We have.
But more needs to be done, and it needs to be done now. The blood of our
children cries out for it. It’s not enough to be outraged.
Mayor Coble and others, fed up with gang and youth
violence, have established a task force to come up with ways to combat
the problems, from intervention to prevention. Some question a key part
of their plan: spending upwards of $100,000 for the University of South
Carolina and Benedict College to conduct an assessment on gang and youth
violence in an effort to help plot effective strategy.
I don’t know how much a study like that should cost.
But I do know we need to do everything possible to beat back this
problem. It’s a problem that will take the effort of everyone — from
parents, children and families to churches and civic organizations to
schools and universities to elected officials and the business
We need Brookland Baptist Church’s African-American
Male Conference, held this past weekend. We need the Brian Wright
Project. We need the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts, the Boys & Girls
Clubs, Big Brother Big Sister, and the many other programs aimed at
youths. We also need new initiatives that get to the core of the problem
and help cut off the supply of youths joining gangs, using drugs and
committing crime and violent acts.
When even one child is killed in a community, it’s
enough to cause grave concern. The long list who have lived far too
short a life in our community should not only cause us to ache inside.
It should prompt us to unite and create the
environment, relationships and programs needed to redeem our children.
The solution doesn’t lie in one person, one church or one group. This
must be a collective, sustained effort that doesn’t fizzle out because a
year goes by without a tragic incident or because time has eased the
pain from the last one.
We often say our children are the future. Let’s make
sure they all have a chance to make it there.
10 May 2007