By Mayor Billy Keyserling
Very often when faced with unsettling experiences we sit back and look to the “experts” to move in and do the work. What I am writing about has nothing to do with experts, it is about members of a community facing up to a problem and investing our time, our energy and our resources, as we best can, to prevent or mitigate a very serious the problem.
To get on with my message:
I am angry that young men are shooting at each other, threatening the lives of innocent bystanders and staining our community with their blood.
I am also angry that young women have, in some cases, “stood by their man’s side” and enabled them to think that carrying a gun, fighting and talking tough is cool.
For the past two weeks I stayed tight lipped because I feared my writing about this troublesome subject as mayor would further elevate the situation to crisis level and raise a level of panic in the community. But I cannot stand by without saying something and encouraging a constructive conversation about how we can work together to keep our community safe.
But first I must thank our City Police Matt Clancy and his able officers and Sheriff J.P Tanner and his able deputies who have arrived at almost every crime scene in less than a minute and expedited investigations resulting in the timely apprehension of perpetrators.
Furthermore I would like to thank them for the continued movie club for youngsters and for being even more visible at places where there was trouble in the past and might be in the future, has been or might, based on records and intelligence. And I would like to thank them for attending each neighborhood or crime watch monthly meeting, when invited, and for taking an active role in the newly established Neighborhood Improvement Team.
The challenge of youth violence is a challenge that cannot be solved by law enforcement alone. And it is unreasonable for us to sit back with that expectation.
No matter how many officers are on the streets, they cannot be in every home, in every business, in every park and in every school detecting there is something wrong with those who are thinking about committing such crimes, and then catching them and intervening before the violent act takes place.
Law enforcement cannot cover Burton and the islands where young people have nothing better to do than walk around in large groups falling prey to the few who might lead them down the road to making poor choices. They cannot supervise young men and women who have been turned away because the Charles Lind Brown Center shut down except for day camp for youngsters. They cannot supervise young people who have been turned away because the Boys & Girls Club closed the Teen Center for lack of funding. They cannot supervise young people who cannot find summer jobs because the economy slowed down. They cannot supervise young people whose parent or parents are off at work and not able to provide ample support for their children. How can we in good conscience sit on the sidelines and ask the hard working men and woman in our law enforcement agencies to take all the heat when things go wrong.
I am not talking about the perpetrators who need to be caught and taken off the streets. Rather I am talking about the innocent victims who are led astray because there is not enough positive leadership in our homes, in our businesses, in our governments, in our places of worship and on our streets.
Over the past week, I have interviewed law enforcement officers and learned that, notwithstanding the budget crunches faced by local government, there is stronger and broader police coverage in The city of Beaufort and throughout Beaufort County than ever before. There are far more police-generated calls by police officers than calls from the public. This means historically quicker response times, apprehensions and arrest.
There are, I am sure, lots of theories about how and why young people fall astray, how families are not doing what they used to do, how schools are letting us down by not better educating and disciplining students. There are lots of theories about drugs, gangs and other criminal activity.
That said, I am hearing way too few theories or action plans outlining how we all come together to protect the community we love so dearly.
Two or more years ago, County Councilman Herbert Glaze called a community meeting at the Burton Wells Recreation Center. The room was filled as he introduced an organization called CAVE which stands for Citizens Against Violence Everywhere. Those of us in the emotion packed setting heard from our sheriff, our solicitor, our city police chief and scores of clergymen all of whom were sounding a call to the community to engage in stopping violence. To me the most insightful speaker was a young man who recently returned home to Beaufort from doing time in a state penitentiary. He told his story, about having made bad choices in the people he hung out with, getting involved in selling and taking drugs and the price he paid by serving time. And it was insightful. His advice to all of us was that if we really wanted to find the answers to reducing violent crime among our younger people, we each needed to go home and look in the mirror. We are the answer!
What we are facing is not a police challenge. It is a community challenge we must not dodge, but embrace.
Please take time to look around and let the police know if you see someone on the verge of making poor decisions.
Please take time to call law enforcement if you see something suspicious or something that does not seem right.
Please take the time to look outside your window every now and then to see what is going on that could become troublesome if not addressed.
Please take to time to ask your spiritual and religious leaders to have a conversation about young people shooting at each other emphasizing that if directed in the right way most young people can make good choices rather than bad choices. Explain to them that cool is not cool. And the work with me to get safe places like the Charles Lind Brown Center and Boys & Girls Clubs back open. If nothing else they provide a safe haven for young people who otherwise could make poor decisions.
Please take time to look to your inner self for answers.
I’m pleading with you to start the discussion, to take personal actions to protect your neighborhoods and our city and county. Work with us; share your experiences and expertise. And even open your eyes, rather than close them, to what is happening and then lend a helping hand to fix it.
By working together, we are going to turn this around. And if we are vigilant in our commitment to chase violence out of our community, we will be all the better for it.