Monique Jackson stood in a room packed with her Charleston neighbors on Friday night and made an impassioned plea. 

She had just been to her friend's funeral. A bullet took his life and she was tired of the killing. 

"I'm tired of crying," Jackson said. "I'm tired of wearing my friend's picture on my shirt."

Jackson was one of at least three dozen people to attend a meeting and prayer vigil aimed at bringing Charleston's East Side together. The historic neighborhood has seen a recent rash of violence.

On Tuesday, 29-year-old Ramone Gary was shot to death on Stroble Lane. Just three days earlier, 23-year-old Steven Lavonta Buie Jr. was shot to death on Harris Street. In August, Timothy Haman Jr., a 41-year-old sous-chef at The Darling Oyster Bar on King Street, was shot down outside his Hanover Street apartment after a confrontation. 

Police have said the homicides are not connected, but in a neighborhood as small and interconnected as East Side, many residents said Friday that the cases have a cumulative impact on the community. 

Rita Willis, a resident of East Side and a lay servant at Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church, also said she attended a funeral Friday for a recent East Side shooting victim.

"Our children are literally hiding from the guns," Willis said. "The fear is real."


Rita Willis wipes tears away from her eyes after speaking to members of the community and city officials during a meeting about violence in Charleston's Eastside at International Longshoremen’s Association Hall Friday Sept. 27, 2019, in Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/ Staff

She called for open dialogue and said that though society views the young men involved in the drug trade, and in the shootouts that it all too often generates, as criminals, it's imperative that residents understand that those youth are especially in need of help.

They turn to drugs and guns because they think there's no other opportunities for economic advancement, Willis said. 

"They think nobody cares," she said. 

Janice Malone, principal at Sanders Clyde Creative Arts Elementary School, also spoke. She's seen the impact of violence in the neighborhoods first-hand, with students coming to classes tired, hungry and upset. 

"They come with such anger so they act out," Malone said. "Our babies need us. Give our children hope." 


Members of the community and city officials gather inside a room for meeting to address violence in Charleston's Eastside neighborhood at International Longshoremen’s Association Hall Friday Sept. 27, 2019, in Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/ Staff

S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, hosted the meeting and prayer vigil at the Charleston longshoremen's union hall on Morrison Drive. Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds, several police officers, Eastside Community Development Corporation president Latonya Gamble, local pastors, city councilmen and others attended. 

Many residents spoke critically of authorities, saying that they're neither seen nor heard from until a homicide or some other crisis. 

"They feel like y'all don't care because they hardly see y'all," Jackson said. 

Gilliard said he knows the city and the community have work to do, and that there are dedicated residents who want to better their communities. 

"It's very important that we talk through (issues), that we talk through it with respect," he said at the meeting's start. "Speak the truth. Speak it from your own character and then let the chips fall where they may. It's going to take bold leadership. This is a human problem. If we don't see that, we're just whistling Dixie."


Members of the community and city officials join together in a circle during a vigil at International Longshoremen’s Association Hall on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, in Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/ Staff

And Reynolds said he and his officers are dedicated to responding to residents' concerns. 

Many East Side residents have told the police department they want to see officers on foot and bicycle patrols, he said, adding that he is working to allocate resources to make that happen. 

The chief also spoke about being out at recent crime scenes and how much he feels for the children in the neighborhood who witness such violence. 

Seeing that kind of scene over and over again can inflict trauma on a young mind that stays with that person for their whole lives, Reynolds said. 

"We've put a lot of focus on the East Side because we want to get it right," he said.

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Gregory Yee covers breaking news and public safety. He's a native Angeleno and previously covered crime and courts for the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, CA. He studied journalism and Spanish literature at the University of California, Irvine.