Lowcountry community activists want people to talk about guns.
That was the message at a forum Sunday night at Summerville High School about gun violence. About 150 people attended the event, where several speakers addressed the issue with focus on the mass shooting June 17 at Emanuel AME Church that left nine people dead.
“The Emanuel nine left a legacy,” said Louis Smith, executive director of the Dorchester County Community Resource Center. “That legacy is that we need to start talking honestly about violence in our community.”
Smith, who conceived the event, said the conversations need to address education and dysfunctional families, among other things, with a focus on helping area youth. He said his hope is to create authentic dialogue “without rhetoric.”
Several speakers at the forum, titled “A Teachable Moment: Reflections on keeping families safe in the aftermath of the Emanuel 9,” communicated a desire to let juveniles know there is life outside of the streets. Christopher Cason, of The Coalition Working Hand N Hand, said he spent 10 years in the Department of Corrections and that more adults needed to be accountable for the youth and set an example.
“I was a knucklehead,” he said. “No one came to me and said, ‘Hey, there’s a better way, so I let the streets teach me.’”
Cason said he just wants the youth to stop killing each other and that adults can’t turn a blind eye when it comes to their own kids participating in illegal activities. He has started partnering with schools to try and teach children early that they don’t have to get caught up in the violence.
Pastor Thomas Dixon, of The Coalition — People United to Take Back Our Community, said there is a gun problem both in the nation and in the Lowcountry. He said there needs to be laws to close gun purchasing loopholes, a crackdown on “bad apple” gun dealers and harsher penalties for those caught illegally carrying weapons.
“It’s going to take the people; it’s going to take you and I to say, ‘Now is the time,’” he said. “Enough is enough.”
Dixon encouraged residents to contact their legislators and push for stronger gun purchasing laws, to organize their communities and start conversations about issues involving violence and to be willing to mentor young people.
“If we can stop one person in the streets from dying, then I feel like we did what God sent us to accomplish,” he added.
Alice Summers, of Summerville, attended the event, she said, because she was concerned for her community.
“I see the results of the gun violence,” she said, adding that the forum made her hopeful that there could be change. “People are involved, people are working on their communities.”
One of the people who helped put together the forum, Alfrida Deas-Potts, of North Charleston, said she truly believes the community needs to work together to make stands against violence, including teaching moral fiber and the word of God.
“A lot of us rely on politicians (to make change),” she said. “This has to be a grass-roots effort. A lot of people just don’t know what they can do.”
Deas-Potts and Smith said they hope Sunday’s event will serve as a template for more forums.
Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC.