Meridian Ward 2 Councilman Dustin Markham spoke out against gun violence last week at a city council meeting and in a follow-up interview with The Meridian Star.
Perhaps, until now, the volume of violence had made the community numb.
In 2016 in Lauderdale County, there were 11 murders attributed to shootings, another murder attributed to stabbing, two accidental deaths by gunshot and at least one other death by gunshot.
Year 2017 started no better, Jeffery Pope was found shot to death at 16th Street and 16th Avenue less than five hours into the new year and Ladarius Naylor is accused of killing his wife, Ariana, using a knife on New Year’s Day in Meridian.
Markham finally said, enough, at the Jan. 3 council meeting, one of the first public officials to do so.
Until then, the deaths seemed to be met by a resounding shrug.
A Meridian resident told The Star editorial board last fall that violent crime happened everywhere. Meridian was no different.
In an interview with The Star last month, Meridian Police Chief Benny Dubois said: “We’ve had eight murders – homicides if you will – in Meridian this year. I was in Memphis (recently) and as I was leaving they were having number 220. Sure we have some issues but in most occasions – if not all occasions – there was nothing we could have done to prevent any of those acts from occurring. But the public seems to think that we should be able to stop those type of actions from occurring.”
No one is saying city police officers or sheriff’s deputies could have prevented these specific deaths. This isn’t a blame game. But we need to get beyond the logic that Memphis, Jackson and Anywhere, USA, have a high violent crime rate so that makes it acceptable here.
Among causes cited by Markham:
—The sale of guns without a background check.
—The exchange of stolen guns in the city.
—“…The extent of poverty, lack of drive, lack of hope, parenting lapses, lack of responsibility for self and children, and lapse of community stakeholders.”
—Parents failure to teach children how to peacefully resolve differences.
—Children and teens believing they have to protect themselves (by carrying guns).
Dubose would add MPD staff turnover and shortages, which he said should be alleviated by recent pay raises and new hires.
We would add present times have made us accepting and expecting of violent behavior appropriate for all ages.
Beleaguered by terrorist bombings and deranged mass shooters in real life, there is no escape through entertainment. For example, at Bonita Lakes theaters, the most recent Star Wars movie is preceded by 20 minutes of violent movie previews.
We, also, believe there is a misguided belief that gun ownership secures personal protection.
States with weak gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership have the highest overall gun death rates in the nation, according to a Violence Policy Center analysis of recently released data for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Prevention and Control.
Mississippi ranks third in gun ownership at 53.3 percent and is fifth in the nation in gun deaths per 100,000 at 19.68. By comparison, Massachusetts has a gun ownership rate of 14.3 percent and a gun death rate of 3.13 percent.
Second Amendment rights, which we support, without responsibility defy sanity.
The councilman is correct, the causes are many and the solutions require community leaders and the community itself to join him in outrage.
The addition of 18 police officers at MPD, the chief’s plan to send them into the neighborhoods and connect with the people and Mayor Percy Bland’s call for increased penalties for gun crimes and the need for alternative programs are, also, good ideas.
But starting the conversation and taking first steps are only the beginning of the solution. Government leaders, community organizations, religious groups, educators, ordinary citizens and news organizations need to make a commitment and work toward solutions.