By Tricia Hall
Sojourner’s Truth Reporter
Community residents of all ages discussed the causes and solutions of gun related violence within the city of Toledo. The two-hour hybrid townhall meeting was held at Scott High School and virtually on the GoToMeeting platform on Saturday, April 18 starting at 2:00 p.m.
The activity was organized and facilitated by City of Toledo Commissioner JoJuan Armour and co-facilitated by community activist and City Park League organizer Montrice Terry. A moment of silence opened the townhall meeting and immediately followed by a prayer facilitated by Reverend Rick Morris of Hope Glory Church. “Lord, put into action what the people need and hear our prayers Lord,” shared Morris.
The townhall meeting implemented social distancing and mask requirements for all attendees. The facilitators briefly explained the safety guidelines before starting the focused presentations about holistic approach, definitions of gun violence, community survey and community risk factors.
“I want to thank everyone for joining this conversation, the people attending virtually and all of you here today. This is our first townhall during the pandemic. There are those who believe that there is hope and opportunity,” said Terry.
The holistic approach explained the benefits of medical, physical, emotional, educational and spiritual when interacting with youth. “If we work together, it’s powerful. Toledo is a beautiful town and we as adults need to set aside our pride to benefit these kids. Churches in the black community are pillars and spiritual development is a benefit in the development of young people. Now they go from arguing to shooting. If we can do more, we can impact change. We can reduce gun violence. I remember the last vigil that I attended because nobody cried. Death, murder and violence have become normalized. We want to see kids smiling and laughing in our community,” explained Armour.
Moms Demand Action representative Judy Harbaugh delivered a verbal and visual presentation that defined gun violence that includes suicide and domestic violence. “Everyday Americans are shot and killed by guns. Suicide is gun violence and there is an increase of 56 percent in the last ten years for individuals between 10-24 years of age. Domestic violence is gun violence, there are 4.5 million women who report being threatened with a gun [every year]. Gun violence can be prevented by requiring background checks on all gun sales and addressing other concerns mentioned in this presentation,” said Harbaugh.
Commissioner Armour presented the results of a community survey that collected results from 180 Toledo-area youth in 2020. The results concluded that a high percentage of youth feel violence has affected the community, have had a negative interaction with police and feel racially targeted by police officers. “We want to provide resources for our kids,” said Armour.
Tracy Johnson, managing partner of SheRay’s & Associates LLC, conducted a brief presentation about the four community risk factors that indicate problems. The presented information drew connections between availability of drugs, family history behavioral problems or conflict, and lack of commitment to school as indicators of youth violence. “Focus on what the individual is doing, the kids, their families, the school they attend and the community,” said Johnson.
The townhall concluded with volunteer-led discussion groups that requested community input and group report-out on seven questions.
- What are you seeing in the community around violence?
- What are the reasons for the increase in violence in the community?
- What has been done in the past around violence?
- How can the police and community relations be strengthened in the community?
- What do you think or feel should be done regarding the violence?
- Are there opportunities for members of the community (youth and adults) to be positively engaged in the community?
- What are some of the opportunities that should be put into place?
Several group responses recommended conducting in-school classes on gun violence, organizing a city-wide gun buy-back program, reducing access to illegal guns, meeting youth where they are emotionally and mentally, creating year-round or seasonal programs or sports for youth, and increasing foot or bike patrol of officers to increase opportunities for positive interaction.
The townhall was entitled, “Community Townhall Meeting on Gun Violence: A Conversation with Commissioner JoJuan Armour, the Mayor’s Initiative to Reduce Gun Violence.” The townhall meeting was streamed live on 13abc Facebook page.