The most concrete short-term suggestion to come out of a community meeting Wednesday on stopping gun violence in North Charleston was to mandate longer prison sentences for anybody caught with an illegal weapon.
About 30 people, including law-enforcement and elected officials, met in the Jeanene Batten Community Center on Dorchester Road to try to come up with ideas to keep so many young black men from shooting each other. The meeting was organized by Pastor Thomas Dixon, co-founder of People United To Take Back Our Community, also known as The Coalition.
More people probably would have been there if a candlelight memorial for a recent shooting victim had not also been scheduled at the same time, Dixon noted. The schedule conflict also pointed out the need for those concerned about crime to communicate with each other and work together, he said.
Dixon said he has been talking with lawmakers about drafting a bill modeled after a program in Richmond, Va., called Project Exile, which mandates a five-year prison sentence for anybody caught with an illegal gun.
“Maybe they’ll think twice about going out and getting that pistol,” he said.
Some pointed out that young men who have broken the law often turn to drug dealing because they can’t get hired anywhere else with their criminal record.
State Rep. David Mack, a North Charleston Democrat, said something should be done to remove that stigma.
“It’s totally unfair when somebody has served the time and can’t get a job for something they’ve done in the past,” he said.
North Charleston City Councilman Michael Brown also attended the meeting, as did a North Charleston police officer.
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office sent Chief Deputy John Clark and a homicide investigator, as well as victim advocate Easter LaRoche.
The most animated speaker was former drug dealer Abdullah Muhammad, also known as Smurf, who now goes around trying to persuade young people to avoid the drug trade. He said being arrested and spending time in prison saved his life.
“The same people I hated the most (police officers) saved me,” he said. “I realized I was the problem, and the only way I could change that was change myself.”
Other suggestions included more efforts to talk to young men to try to steer them in healthy directions and putting mothers outside nightclubs to make young men think twice before getting rowdy.
Dixon said he will compile suggestions for another meeting to come up with action plans.
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.
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