Community leaders set to take action against youth violence

Roughly 50 people gathered at city hall to identify gaps in the report and dictate a possible structure going forward.
Roughly 50 people gathered at city hall to identify gaps in the report and dictate a possible structure going forward.

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The issue of gang and youth violence exploded in Wilmington last summer. Police have since fought the battles on the streets. Despite months of debates and public forums, many are upset that there's still very little being done by the City of Wilmington.

Now, community leaders who have been involved in the discussion say the involvement process of gathering ideas and input is over and now it's time to take action.

City Manager Sterling Cheatham spent months working on a list of 40 efforts to cut down on gang violence in our community.

Tuesday night, roughly 50 people gathered at city hall to identify gaps in the report and dictate a possible structure going forward.

Hundreds of new ideas were submitted including a new teen center, upgrades to the educational curriculum, prevention and intervention, job creation, and upgraded law enforcement.

Mayor Bill Saffo said this problem stretches beyond city limits.

"These are the community's ideas. Not the Mayor or the City Manager," Saffo said. "This is the idea that we picked up from listening to them. Now it's our job to see what we can do to implement a lot of these ideas."

Moving forward, the group of city councilors, church members, and community leaders has decided to ask UNCW to convene local service providers to identify who will do what regarding recommendations in the report and any other needed actions.

However, even after the productive meeting, many community leaders are still left wondering what will happen next. Abita Johnson works with the youth in the community through a program called the Cape Fear Workforce Investment Act.

"Some of these problems are microwave problems so we need action now instead of continuing to meet," said Johnson. "We can meet all day long but without any action we're just meeting."

The group will also be asked to create a mechanism and determine the timing for sharing updates and obtaining feedback with the larger community.

Mitch Cunningham with the Wilmington Police Department said he's excited about the possibilities of getting the community involved in making a positive change.

"Now it begins. The involvement part of the process where we look at what the concerns are has now ended," Cunningham said. "Now, the involvement process being a part of the solution is the key."

The community group also plans to work collaboratively to provide a cohesive set of related services and programs as well as identify ways to make sure these resources are readily available to everyone in the community.

Sheriff Ed McMahon said that law enforcement can only do so much. He believes this problem truly needs to be addressed by the entire community.

"We're doing what we need to do to get the aggressive violent people immediately. But we can't arrest away [the problem]," said McMahon. "Now, maybe we can take off our enforcement hat a little bit and look for ways to partner with the community through intervention, prevention, working together, positive things."

Furthermore, the results of the efforts of this group will periodically be shared with citizens including public and private policy makers.

The group will reconvene at a later date to determine any overlap or gaps in the report and resolve how to best accommodate them.

Organizers hope to start implementing their short term goals immediately.

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