Sojourner’s Truth Staff
A group of concerned citizens gathered at the Kent Branch Library this past Monday evening to probe the issue of gun violence in Toledo and they all seemed to agree on at least one important point: children do not grow up in a vacuum.
Children are influenced positively, the participants opined, by caring, well-meaning adults – be that in the family, in the community and in schools. Children are influenced negatively by the absence of such role models in their lives and also by the pervasive negative images sown by movies, music and social media.
“What kids are seeing in their own community plays a role in what they do,” said Albert Earl, community activist. “We have to invest in our babies – we have to tell them the positive stories.”
On the other hand, noted former City Councilman Larry Sykes, the community can fix the problem of violence that it is witnessing. “It’s a community problem, this is a pandemic too. But when we come together as concerned citizens – as men and women, we can resolve this matter.”
Citing the way the city has dealt with problems such as the conflict over the water plant, lead poisoning, vaping or a food crisis in the Toledo Public Schools, Sykes said, “we can do this.”
Former Police Officer Harold Mosley echoed the sentiment that the community plays such a key role in shaping the character of those in that community.
“Young men need good role models,” he said, while noting the dearth of such role models in many neighborhoods. “The environment leads to homicide.”
“The issue is where you live,” said Toledo City Councilwoman Vanice Williams. “This is your neighborhood.”
Those present also noted the damaging impact of outside influences, particularly upon those most vulnerable because they might lack the proper guidance at home, in the community or at school. Most particularly the impact of drugs and movies.
Several observed that an upsurge in crime, particularly homicides, in Toledo has its roots in two signature events in the 1980s, which the city has even now been unable to cope with. Those two events – the movie Colors and the crack cocaine epidemic.
“Colors changed everything,” said Mosley, noting that the movie fostered the appearance of dangerous gangs such as the Detroit Young Boys Incorporated and the local affiliation with Los Angeles centered Crips and Bloods.
Albert Earl seconded this opinion. Speaking of the Colors influence, Earl said: “the things that kids see has an impact on their brains,” adding that music and social media also play a huge part in influencing youthful behavior.
Earl also cited the example of a rapper who was recently chastised, and has to apologize, for statements that were considered insulting to the LGBTQ community. However, noting that the rapper’s lyrics were full of the use of “the n-word and the b-word and the totally negative statements about black folks,” Earl said that the black community was far too slow to chastise the users of such insults.
“We have to address that,” he said of the “impact and the influence” of different types of entertainment.
Another subject that was mentioned frequently was that of accountability.
“You have to hold people accountable,” said Mosley as he touched on the subject of how necessary it was for those in the community to report offenses to law enforcement. Go ask the victims’ families how they feel about [the issue of snitching].”
Many of those present expressed their concern over the fact that so many citizens do not recognize the importance of reporting crimes due to their concerns about either retribution or vilification.
Sykes also decried the tendency of judges to permit violent offenders back into the community.
“Judges have to be held accountable when they let someone out to repeat [their offenses], he said.
Sykes, a candidate for an at-large City Council seat in the upcoming September 12 primary, was one of the hosts of the community forum, an event organized in response to the 2020 homicide numbers of 61, a 62 percent increase over 2019. The city is on pace to top that number in 2021, with 40 homicides having been recorded by the end of July.
The hosts asked the City of Toledo to send Karen Poore, Public Safety Director and JoJuan Armour, City of Toledo Gun Violence Coordinator, to the meeting. Neither appeared.