'It's up to us'

Priscilla Simmons, mother of slaying victim Jermel Brown, returns to her seat Wednesday after speaking at the 'Youth Speak Out' forum moderated by the Rev. Jimmy Gallant (foreground) at Burke High School.

It's been a little more than four months since 15-year-old Jermel Brown was shot to death under a downtown overpass, allegedly by two men with lengthy rap sheets who were after his twin brother.

Brown's mother was one of about 100 people at Burke High School Wednesday evening to talk about how to stop more senseless killings.

"I'm still not really over it," Priscilla Simmons told the audience before she broke down crying. "Every day I hear his voice. Every day I see his smile."

The Rev. Jimmy Gallant, who moderated the forum and invited Simmons to speak, said he was carrying almost 50 obituaries of young black men killed by guns in the decade he's been a police chaplain.

"When is it going to stop?" said Gallant, who also is a Charleston city councilman. "It's up to us."

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley responded that Brown's death shows why state lawmakers need to change laws that allow serious criminals to walk the streets and commit more crimes.

"We need to recommit ourselves to make sure Jermel Brown's tragic death was not in vain," said Riley, who was part of a panel of community leaders.

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen, also on the panel, said police need more help from the community.

"We cannot do it alone," Mullen said.

The 90-minute forum was called "Youth Speak Out" because it was supposed to let the community leaders hear from six teenagers chosen by the state Department of Juvenile Justice and Department of Mental Health to give a street-level view of the problems. The young people, identified only by first name, weren't given time to say much.

A young man named Eric said there are good reasons why people in the projects don't talk to police.

"Honestly, I wouldn't report a crime to the police department," he said. "You've got to think about the environment I live in. ... Once you get a reputation as a snitch, that's the kind of thing that makes people want to kill you."

He also said he had a general distrust of police.

Mullen responded that officers need to spend a lot of time in a neighborhood, getting to know the residents and earning their trust.

YMCA Director Paul Stoney, also on the panel, put the responsibility back on the parents and community.

"We're all sitting here making excuses why we cannot control our children," he said. "Our parents are not taking personal responsibility for the children they bring into this world."

Trident Urban League President and Chief Executive Officer Otha Meadows, also on the panel, stressed better education and job training.

Anthony O'Neill with 100 Black Men of America and Family Court Judge Jocelyn Cate also were on the panel.