Tackling crime, punishment
Panel offers solutions to malignant problems
(pictured above: Whole Man Ministries’ Kenneth Holly speaks as Bishop Todd Fulton looks on.)
Black-on-black crime’s causes and solutions were explored Saturday morning during a breakfast panel discussion at the Applebee’s on Griffith Road.
The candid talk, entitled “My Brother’s Keeper,” was held by Diggs Memorial United Holy Church and its pastor, Elder Lamonte Williams. It featured several people with intimate knowledge of the topic, including Assistant Police Chief Wilson Weaver, who shared grim local statistics showing that more than 90 percent of the time crimes against blacks are perpetrated by other blacks.
While all races are victimized by members of the same race, he said the black-on-black crime rate is stark in comparison to the white-on-white crime rate of 46.4 percent and Hispanic-on-Hispanic rate of 39 percent.
“When it comes to black-on-black crime, our numbers are so disproportionately away from everyone else that there’s obviously a problem, and there are obviously a strong number of black victims that are out there,” Weaver said.
The tragedy is compounded when perpetrators are apprehended and end up with a criminal record and possible jail time, the assistant chief added.
“Anything that can be done to get to our, especially black, males before they’re committing offenses, we’re all for it, because our part of it is more reactive than it is proactive,” he said.
District Court Judge Denise Hartsfield, who moderated the discussion, decried what she sees in the court system.
“I see more African American men being habitualized than anything in that courthouse, which is a travesty,” said Hartsfield.
She said unequal access to lawyers is a problem that leads to young black defendants without lawyers ending up with criminal records for minor offenses while their white counterparts with paid representation get slaps on the wrists. Hartsfield also railed against a state law that allows for teens as young as 16 to be charged as adults. North Carolina is one of only a two states that makes such allowances.
State Senator Earline Parmon said she’s been working in the General Assembly to try to change the law. She said a felony on a young person’s record can make it difficult to find employment and receive access to social service benefits such as public housing vouchers.
“When I talk to my colleagues, I ask them if they understand that when they felonize a 16-year-old they’re giving them a life sentence,” said Parmon, who also said poverty in the black community is a major contributor to the crime.
Attorneys Valene Franco and Donna Taylor, both of whom are running for judicial seats, gave their perspectives. Franco, a Legal Aid lawyer, said domestic violence is a much glossed-over component of black-on-black crime.
“What I do see is the unfortunate situation where some people want to say that somehow domestic violence is part of our culture,” she said. “We don’t want to accept that, that it’s a part of black culture, that it’s OK.”
Kenneth Holly, an evangelist at Whole Man Ministries, and Bishop Todd Fulton, pastor of Mt. Moriah Outreach Center and second vice president of the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, are doing their part to keep young black men far away from the criminal justice system. Both men talked about church-led programs aimed at helping youth and ex-offenders.
Reginald Dye, who wants to train ex-offenders in marketable trades, Greg Squires of S.E.L.F. (Self Employment Lasts Forever) and Joseph Robinson, a re-entry coordinator at PPRE-Forever Green in Charlotte, talked about how to get ex-offenders back to work.
Dr. Kimya Dennis, an assistant sociology professor at Salem College, spoke about how a culture that equates blackness with ignorance contributes to black-on-black crime.
Malishai “Shai” Woodbury, an educator and school board candidate, and Michael Harris, dean of adult literacy at Forsyth Technical Community College, discussed education. Harris said education is essential to getting and keeping young people on the right track.
“Our community needs to be educated and learn to engage in what’s available to them,” he said.
The discussion’s format also allowed for attendees to share their thoughts on the subject and pose questions.
Police Chief Barry Rountree and City Council Member James Taylor stopped by the event momentarily to greet the crowd and encourage their interest in finding solutions to the vexing issues.