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Gun violence continues to plague Durham, which looks for help from within and outside

Posted November 12, 2020 5:11 p.m. EST
Updated November 12, 2020 8:43 p.m. EST

— In what has become a too familiar refrain, Durham leaders on Thursday bemoaned a rising tide of gun violence in the city and called for help to quell it.

So far this year, 823 shootings have been reported in Durham, a 42 percent jump from a year ago. The number of people wounded in those shootings has almost doubled, from 130 to 250, although the number killed has dropped slightly, from 29 to 24.

Forty-two of those hurt in shootings this year are 17 or younger, including 15-year-old Anthony Adams, who was killed Sunday in a drive-by shooting downtown.

"This loss of life, this gun violence, all gun violence is absolutely unacceptable in Durham," Mayor Steve Schewel said at a news conference. "Every time there is a gunshot wound here in the Bull City, it doesn't just tear into the body of the wounded. It tears into their family, into their neighborhood and into our entire community."

Schewel said he has full confidence in Police Chief C.J. Davis and the police department's efforts to fight the violence, citing several steps the department has taken recently, including having a special task force investigate gun crimes and getting information out to officers on patrol more quickly.

"We can’t do this by ourselves," Davis said. "We are just one cog in the wheel, and we are at the end of the process when it comes to the criminal justice system. There is much work to be done at the grassroots level that deals with the root causes of crime."

Schewel urged the General Assembly to enact more gun control legislation, such as universal background checks, a "red flag" law to temporarily take firearms away from people deemed to pose a danger to themselves or others and allowing cities to prohibit carrying weapons in restaurants, bars and parks.

"As long as guns are available in [large] quantities and as long as they are easily available to anyone who wants a gun, we are not gong to be able to end gun violence," he said.

He also encouraged local businesses to provide internships to teens to give them options other than becoming involved with a street gang and said the city and Durham County need to expand recreational opportunities and mental health services.

"It can't be just the police department. The work is too great for us to be able to handle on our own by just arresting individuals," Davis said. "We can't arrest crime away."

Both the mayor and Davis pinned much of the violence on gang members fighting among themselves – catching innocent residents in the crossfire.

"Many of the shootings that occur in the city are being committed by a small number of individuals," Davis said.

Z'Yon Person was one of those innocents. The 9-year-old was killed last year while riding in his aunt's car to get ice cream, and a prosecutor said this week that a gang member bent on retaliation mistook the aunt's SUV for a rival's vehicle.

Sandra Person said Thursday that she feels little has changed in the 15 months since her grandson died.

"I don’t know what has to be really done, but something seriously needs to be done because Z’Yon is not the only life that was lost in all this gun violence," Person said. "We need things for kids to do to keep them busy, but we have to start in the streets first, and people have to open up their mouths."

Both she and her husband said Durham needs more police officers focused on breaking up gangs.

"I think the city of Durham, they need more gun control as far as more gang task forces. They also need to bring back the money for guns [buyback program]," Gary Person said.

The Durham City Council rejected Davis' request last summer for more gang officers, a move that retired deputy chief Larry Smith said will make it harder for the police department to recruit new officers.

"When the chief comes out and asks for more officers and it’s denied, those things tell the officers, listen, some of the council is just not interested in supporting you in what you do," said Smith, who serves as a spokesman for the Durham Fraternal Order of Police. "I personally think what would have an immediate effect on crime is getting the officers you do have to be more proactive again, and that’s really going to require a council, quite frankly, that is willing to come out and support officers and say, 'We have a real problem right now.'"

David said her team is trying to work with the resources they have to address the violence as best as they can while also meeting Durham's other needs.

"We would love to see the police department be put out of business, but we are very busy these days," she said.

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