Reducing Gun Violence
Mayor Riechert and Fellow Commissioners,
Open Letter to Mayor Riechert on Gun Violence
As a County Commissioner, crime and violence in our community has always been an area of concern. There are countless lives constantly being impacted by this growing problem. Unfortunately, I became a victim of a home invasion this past week. I was not injured during this crime, however, this could have easily become a tragic situation. As I reflect on the events of that night, there are a few policy points I want to discuss.
First, I would like to commend the Bibb County Sheriff Department (BCSD) for their quick response and through investigative actions. The swift apprehension of the intruder by the BCSD brought immediate closure and prevented further harm or injury to our community by this individual. However, it is imperative to mention, the actions of the BCSD were purely reactionary; the violent act had already taken place. In my bedroom, being awaken to stare down the barrel of a gun, a totally different outcome could have been possible. If I was a millisecond too slow, or an inch too fast, a posthumous appointment with Coroner Leon Jones would have occurred. This situation along with countless others has given me an even greater determination to focus on how can these type of acts can be prevented in the future.
I agree with the public outcry for more police protection and also improving officer morale by paying law enforcement along with other county employees) higher salaries. There is also a need to implement automatic annual cost of living increases. However, let me be clear, I know we should be paying our law enforcement a higher salary. This is especially true for an organization of this size and caliber to expect an annual cost of living adjustment at a minimum.
Simply to focus solely on the suppression and reactive solutions alone, will not have meaningful statistical impact on the number of property crimes nor violent crimes happening in our community. If we are to reduce the violent crime rate we must also focus on the prevention and intervention components of public safety. The day after this home invasion, I kept asking myself what was the root cause of his actions, a young man living with no hope of attaining the American Dream. A young man with limited opportunity to be included and have equitable access to the mainstream community living. The reality of his world means living in areas with concentrated poverty lacking consistent, reliable access to food, shelter, and clothing. It also means a shortage of positive mentorship and structured activities all while having the easy accessibility and availability of firearms.
To ignore several of the root causation of violence and only address the most identifiable symptom of the problem with the only solution through incarceration (quarantine) is reckless. It resembles a society who would continue to treat smallpox through quarantine while ignoring all the progress of modern medicine and vaccines.
What is even more concerning, there are pockets of our community who suggest that we fund our law enforcement suppression and reactionary policing activities by removing funding from programs and agencies that directly aim to aide our at-risk communities. These diversionary and preventative funding opportunities include the provision for education, transportation, health services, and job creation.
The draconian ideas include but are not limited to:
Completely closing our library system when only 33% of our 3rd graders read on grade level.
Completely closing our transit system when ⅖ of our families don’t have a car.
Completely defunding of mental health, physical health, along with the food bank while our infant mortality rate continues to be the highest in the state.
Cease all youth education programs based out of local museums are art institutions while Macon-Bibb County’s Graduation rate is in the bottom 1/10 of the State.
Cease funding to the Industrial Authority, Urban Development Authority & Land Bank Authority, Planning Zoning. This would guarantee that potential developers, industry and job prospects would have no professional point of contact in our community. We run the risk of losing millions in job creation and expansion.
We must be strategic in wholistically addressing the issues in our community. These include but are not limited to the following:
Adopting a public health modeled approach to violence prevention that focuses on providing prevention and intervention to target high-risk populations, specifically, broken, impoverished, young families in the inner cities.
Increase access and opportunity to summer work experiences for young adults 16-24 years old.
Require the County to create a plan to service the more than 700 youth on waiting list for summer camps at County recreation facilities.
Provide waivers or scholarships for youth to participate in educational enrichment activities across the County, so that low income families also have the opportunity to enjoy these benefits.
Provide greater support for inner city families, by improving access to jobs and career opportunities,
Provide more low cost and easy access to family, and mental health counseling services.
Become proactive in creating a higher community standard of Gun Safety, by requiring more from our local retailers and manufacturers. Encouraging them to take advantage of new technologies such as fingerprint readers; advance registration/background checks to become more like the car buying process; decreasing the availability of high caliber, high capacity weapons in the black market; ending legal immunity for gun manufacturers; treating gun violence as a public safety concerns; and allowing doctors to be proactive in gun safety education.
We know that utopia is not currently an available alternative. It will take time and effort to obtain even incremental reductions in violence. A social problem that has taken generations to develop, will not disappear quickly, cheaply, nor without sacrifice. We must replace today's rhetoric of individuality with values of family life, morality, and communal responsibilities. We must avoid the tempting mirage, the false promises of quick fixes, and begin to take proactive steps to improve the quality of life for all our citizens.
Virgil Watkins Jr.
Problems to Be solved
Problems to Be solved