Chuck Williams: It's time for a frank discussion about crime

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 9, 2013 

Maybe it’s time for a difficult and frank discussion about crime in Columbus.

And I am not talking about victims and neighbors sitting in a room voicing their concerns to each other, politicians and law enforcement officials.

The conversation needs to be with those suspected of committing the crimes. They need to be put on notice that this community has had a bellyful.

A former colleague, Jim Mustian, wrote a story last weekend in the Baton Rouge Advocate about just such a meeting that was held recently in Louisiana.

The Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination team arranged the invitation-only forum to issue an ultimatum to the street gangs whose score-settling shootings have fueled the city’s murder rate, Mustian reported.

“From now on, we’re going to deliver consequences to every member of the group that puts the next body on the ground,” District Attorney Hillar Moore III said. “Today is a new day in Baton Rouge.”

Those invited by law enforcement were given packets that included copies of their own rap sheets. They were warned, in no uncertain terms, to stop it.

Why not try that approach here?

Columbus has seen a rash of burglaries and armed robberies. In the last month seven suspected members of a major burglary ring, all of them black males from 18 to 25, have been arrested and charged with various crimes from burglary to auto theft.

There are arrest warrants on three more. Police are careful to stop short when asked if the group was a gang. One veteran officer calls them “cohorts.”

Councilor Pops Barnes believes the Baton Rouge approach would be an excellent idea.

“There is an outcry in our community, especially the African-American community,” Barnes said. “That is something I think will work because this community is tired of all the robberies, tired of all the murders and just plain tired. We are tired of losing our young men.”

This suspected burglary ring is alarming for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the Facebook pages that many of the young men had. There were photos of men with guns and what appeared to be illegal drugs.

Some of them were bragging about how much money they had.

“Bragging about it?” Barnes asked. “That’s a damn disgrace.”

Barnes walks his district almost every day. He talks to those who live in high-crime areas and knows what they are thinking.

They want it to stop.

It would take some legwork to fill a room with the people who need to hear the message, but it would be a step this city needs to take. We have a crime prevention office in the city, so maybe it starts there. But it needs to start somewhere.

“I think we need to put them on notice that we won’t take it anymore,” Barnes said. “This kind of idea would have the support of the total community — the black community and white community.”

Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com.

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