After a string of homicides that shook the city of North Charleston, after suffering violent crime herself, Lakeisha Burgess-Brown is taking the first steps toward a brighter future.
The former Dorchester-Waylyn resident organized a Stop the Violence march with about 30 community members and police officers in her old neighborhood Wednesday night aimed at raising awareness and spurring residents into action. She hopes marches like hers will unite people all over North Charleston to work toward peace, to support law enforcement and to build a better city.
"I'm trying to bring our communities together so we can show our strength and we can increase the peace," Burgess-Brown said. "Just the last week we had five murders. I personally have experienced some things in the past. I've had a home invasion ... I lost someone very close to me."
It's important to come together particularly to set an example for the city's children, teens and young adults, she said.
Over five days, from Aug. 4-8, North Charleston police responded to five homicides, bringing the city's total to 15 of the 39 killings recorded in the tri-county area so far this year. The shootings marked one of the deadliest stretches in the city's history and comes on the heels of a record setting pace of killings in recent years. With 35 homicides, 2017 was the deadliest year in the city’s history, breaking the record of 32 homicides set in 2016.
"Our kids are watching," Burgess-Brown said. "We have so many kids that's going to be coming up without a father. We're losing their dads to the streets. We gotta stand together on this. If our kids see this, then they know someone cares."
She believes recent marches like the one held Wednesday night are starting to make a difference.
Dolores Arrazola, a current neighborhood resident, said fear in the community is continuing to hold back progress, particularly in the Hispanic community.
"We came here today because there's been a lot of violence throughout the city," Arrazola said, in Spanish. "In this neighborhood, there's been a lot of gunshots at night. We came to support the (police) so that there's more communication with the community. What we need is that the community, people of all races, communicate with police and trust them."
Among the officers who joined Wednesday's march was North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess.
Although he's held several similar marches in response to homicides this year, Burgess said this event started from the ground up, in the community.
He, too, is starting to see some positive changes.
"You may have not seen this in the city before," Burgess said. "You see it now. When the community gets fed up over crime, they make their stand (and) things turn all the way around."
Residents are starting to call police more often to report concerns and they're showing up at City Hall as well, the chief said. The old attitudes of distrust and "no snitching" street code are going by the wayside.
It appears that community-driven efforts to partner with law enforcement and quell violence are spreading throughout the Charleston area.
At the same time as the North Charleston event, Charleston County sheriff's deputies and a group of women marched down Dills Bluff Road to Greenhill Road on James Island. That neighborhood was the scene of two shootings, including a homicide, in June.