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From Youngstown to the White House: The U.S. seeks answers to violence

From the White House to Ohio's Statehouse to the streets of Youngstown, leaders and citizens sought answers to the questions of mounting violence Wednesday.

From the White House to Ohio's Statehouse to the streets of Youngstown, leaders and citizens sought answers to the questions of mounting U.S. violence Wednesday.

'Gun violence is unacceptable'

About 150 Youngstown residents gathered at the former Bottom Dollar Store parking lot Wednesday evening for a “Stop the Violence” community vigil to pray for peace and the end of violence after four shootings since June 6. 

Members of the crowd joined in song and prayer, led by pastors from churches throughout Youngstown.

Prayers were dedicated to families affected by violence, perpetrators of violence, against the spirit of violence, safety in neighborhoods, safety forces, church and community involvement, mediation efforts, mentors and peace. 

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and Youngstown Police Department Chief Carl Davis also spoke about working to end violence in the city. 

Brown said it’s painful to see a young life with so much potential ended too soon. He said it’s time for Youngstown to declare that the city will no longer be overtaken by violence.

“Together, we can do it,” Brown said and asked the crowd to ask themselves what they can do to help end violence in the city. 

Davis said he is tired of going to crime scenes and seeing the lives of young people ended so early.

“This gun violence is unacceptable, and it threatens everything that we have done together,” Davis said, noting progress including the recent outreach initiatives between YPD and the community. 

“If we allow it, it can pull us apart at the very moment when our city needs to come together,” Davis said. 

The most recent shooting victim had two murder warrants for his arrest connected to previous shootings, Davis said. The man had left the Youngstown area. When he returned, he was shot and killed in apparent retaliation. 

According to WKBN, Abdul Muhammad, 30, was killed Tuesday in the parking lot of a South Avenue bar in a shooting that also wounded another man. Muhammad had a warrant for a Nov. 19, 2020, shooting that killed Marquis Bebbs, 35. 

The department discourages “street justice” and wants residents to allow the department to handle crimes, Davis said, adding that the department plans to address retaliation issues in the near future.

During Tuesday’s town hall, Davis discussed training initiatives as well as the implementation of body cameras and community partnerships. 

Davis said it’s important for the community to work with the police department.

“A lot of these crimes that go on, someone in the neighborhood saw or heard something,” Davis said, encouraging people to call the YPD. “[Police officers] can't be everywhere.”

YPD is also planning to expand the ShotSpotter program throughout the city. The program will be able to detect where shots are fired and also provide video to YPD.

The vigil also marked the beginning of 70 days of prayer and fasting that will take place through Aug. 31. People are encouraged to sign up for a time slot for one hour of prayer. On the day people sign up, they are asked to fast for a 12- or 24-hour period. 

To sign up, contact New Bethel Baptist Church at 330-747-2125 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Other future initiatives for the “Stop the Violence” campaign include yard signs, prayer walks and marches, mediation efforts and mentoring for young people.

Yard signs are expected to be available for pickup next week at a central location. 

Prayer walks and marches will take place in target areas for crime in the city that will begin this Saturday and take place every Saturday until Aug. 28. More information will be announced on times and locations. 

“This is not the end. This is the beginning,” Dr. Rosie Thompson-Taylor said during the closing prayer.

Violence is also expected to be a topic at the City Council's safety committee meeting today (Thursday) at 3 p.m. that is livestreamed on the city's YouTube page

'Taking on the bad actors'

Youngstown wasn't alone in seeking answers to the growing tide of violence — and the issues of policing.

In a Wednesday evening speech, President Joe Biden announced new efforts to stem violent crime, declaring the federal government is “taking on the bad actors doing bad things to our communities.” Biden’s plan focuses on providing money to cities that need more police, offering community support and, most of all, cracking down on gun violence and those supplying illegal firearms.

“These merchants of death are breaking the law for profit,” Biden said. “If you willfully sell a gun to someone who’s prohibited, my message to you is this: We’ll find you and we’ll seek your license to sell guns. We’ll make sure you can’t sell death and mayhem on our streets.”

Biden announced a “zero tolerance” policy that would give no leeway to gun dealers who fail to comply with federal law — their licenses to sell would be revoked on a first offense. He will also seek increased transparency on gun data and better coordination among states, and will push Congress for more money for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the agency responsible for enforcing federal gun laws and regulating gun dealers.

The Justice Department is also launching strike forces in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., to help take down illegal gun traffickers.

'A public safety crisis'

Earlier in the day, Gov. Mike DeWine made good on his promise to professionalize policing in the state by introducing a college-to-law-enforcement pathway program.

The pilot program under the new state Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment is an effort by the Republican governor to both recruit more law enforcement officers as departures engulf agencies across the state and make sure the candidates who do apply are qualified.

“This is not an easy time to be in law enforcement," DeWine said at a Wednesday briefing, surrounded by police chiefs, deputies and rank-and-file officers from across Ohio. “Failure to keep the ranks of law enforcement full has the potential to create a public safety crisis."

He added, “During a time where we are seeing more violence, that is an additional challenge.”

Ellen Wagner

About the Author: Ellen Wagner

Ellen Wagner reports on municipal services and budget cuts in Youngstown. She is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.
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