On Tuesday of this week, Florence County Councilman Al Bradley joined Florence City Councilpersons Lethonia Barnes and Chaquez McCall to hold another Town Hall meeting. These discussions are part of a long list of public meetings on how to stop gun violence in the City and County of Florence. However, this time they invited concerned citizens to the Town Hall meeting held at McClenaghan Adult and Community Education Center on Dargan Street in Florence, South Carolina.
The Town Hall meeting was open to the public, so the city and county leaders heard from people living in the communities most affected by the gun violence, which has them living in fear of not being able to leave their homes and businesses at night, or fear of not being able to let their children play outside in the daytime. These concerned parents and grandparents came looking for answers.
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But these parents and grandparents are not alone in their search for answers. Across the nation, in big cities and small towns, gun violence is one of the leading issues citizens living in underserved communities face every day. But as this newspaper has pointed out before, communities need more than their citizens’ involvement. They need city and county leaders to take their heads out of the sand and become proactive in dealing with the root causes which are gangs, easy access to guns, and the provision of better lighting in underserved communities. These communities could also benefit from an increased presence of law enforcement in their neighborhoods and more video cameras on street corners and in high crime areas.
When the City of Florence wanted to improve living conditions in underserved communities, they spent millions of dollars on planning and building what experts told them would be solutions to some problems. But where is the investment in programs to protect these underserved communities from people inside and outside of them who seem to place a low value on human life?
The concerned citizens in these neighborhoods mean well, and I understand they want their communities back, but is Florence County, the City of Florence, or any other county in the region really asking private citizens to put their lives on the line and do the work of professional law enforcement? Yes, citizens should say something if they see something, but with the way guns and violence are controlling these communities, private citizens could get hurt, or killed if the wrong person finds out they have been talking to law enforcement.
As was stated in the recent Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report, gun violence is a product of more access to guns and greater gang activity. If we stop or slow, the flow of illegal guns into our areas, we will go a long way to stopping or controlling gun violence in these underserved communities.
But leaders like Lethonia Barnes, Chaquez McCall, and Al Bradley need to accept that it’s going to take more than a Town Hall meeting to deal with gun violence in underserved communities and that real change will only start when communities, like Florence, devote financial resources to this problem. With all of the financial resources coming into this community because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, shouldn’t some of that money be earmarked for safer communities instead of soccer fields?