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NEIGHBORS ADDRESS CRIME

Massey Hill community comes together for ‘March Against Violence’

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Just four days after a shooting in the area, about 50 people gathered in the Massey Hill neighborhood Saturday morning to stand up against violent crime and show solidarity for law enforcement. 

The Community March Against Violence was hosted by the Fayetteville Police Department and leaders of the city’s faith community. It was part of the local observance of the national Faith & Blue Weekend that also included a “Coffee With a Cop” on Friday.

Faith & Blue is sponsored by MovementForward, an organization that pairs law enforcement officers with faith-based organizations to promote positive social change. 

Before the march, several community leaders and law enforcement officers shared remarks about their work and addressed how the community can come together to combat gun violence. Following this discussion, Sgt. Alpha Caldwell of the Police Department led the group on a walk around the neighborhood, pointing out specific locations where crimes had occurred and dilapidated structures along the way.  

Police Chief Kemberle Braden and City Councilwoman Shakeyla Ingram, who represents the area, were present. Braden addressed the group, outlining three key takeaways he hoped participants would gain from the march. 

“No. 1, awareness. If you're not from this community, to see the blight that we're going to walk through,” he said. “No. 2, if you do live in this community, I hope you're going to see that the other members of your community are marching with you and walking through your neighborhood. 

“And the third one was the warning to the people who continue to encourage and cause violent crime to thrive in the Massey Hill community, to know that it's not just the Police Department walking the streets today.” 

Many children took part in the march, and speakers emphasized the importance of supporting at-risk youth to overcome the gun violence epidemic. 

“Looking out for our children, I’m so glad we have our babies here today with us,” Ingram said. 

“This is my neighborhood, and I love it dearly.” 

Ingram represents District 2, which has the most community watch groups of the city’s nine districts. The Massey Hill neighborhood has been identified by the police as one of three gun violence hotspots in the city.  

The march came after a particularly violent week in the city. On Monday, a man shot himself while in police custody, police said, prompting an internal investigation. A day after, a man was shot and killed during a carjacking, police said. Another act of gun violence occurred Tuesday, as police responded to a man shot in the abdomen after an altercation in the area of Briar Circle — just down the road from where the march took place. 

Timothy Gallant, vice president of the Massey Hill Community Watch group, spoke to those attending about his experience witnessing many violent crimes in the neighborhood over the years. 

“A bullet knows nobody's name. All it takes is ricocheting off of something,” Gallant said.

He said he often sees “kids running up and down the street, (with) parents not looking after,” and that there needs to be more guidance for these kids. Neighbors, he said, need to be “peacemakers” for each other. 

“I look out for everybody,” Gallant said. “I don't care how old you are, you're Black, white, Hispanic, whatever. You're my brother. It all comes down to respect.”  

Kevin Brooks, program director of the Proactive and PROOVE Project, discussed his group's efforts to curb retaliatory violence during the "March Against Violence."
Kevin Brooks, program director of the Proactive and PROOVE Project, discussed his group's efforts to curb retaliatory violence during the "March …

Kevin Brooks, program director for the city's Proactive and Responsible Outreach Over Violence with Education (PROOVE) Project, spoke about how his group works with law enforcement by utilizing community violence intervention programs that emphasize a proactive approach to addressing violent crime. The group received $399,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding from the city. 

Brooks said PROOVE works with people throughout Fayetteville who may have been victims of or witnesses to a crime but don’t feel comfortable going to the police. He highlighted the importance of intervening early and building relationships with individuals at risk. He also discussed the importance of collaborating with the public, including those with personal experience with violence, to bridge the gap and provide support and guidance. 

“So we stand in the gap to learn how things work,” Brooks said, “so we can be the caveat to the people that are involved in these situations to say, ‘All is not lost and you don't have to turn to retaliation every single time, and it's not getting you anywhere anyway — it's just perpetuating the violence.’”

Deanne Gerdes, executive director of The Phoenix Center of Fayetteville, which offers support services to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, said that domestic violence cases have “skyrocketed” since the COVID-19 pandemic, but that the center’s partnership with the Police Department had allowed the city to make “a huge dent” in addressing the problem. 

Gerdes said the department had forwarded the center contacts of 1,000 domestic violence survivors in the past six months alone to call to offer services. She also thanked the City Council for providing the center with funds to address alternative housing needs for survivors. 

Mary Douglas, a former police officer in Charlottesville, Virginia, said that increasing youth engagement programs in Fayetteville can help reduce violence in neighborhoods. 

Douglas now works for the North Carolina Jaycees, a nonprofit organization that offers young people professional development skills and access to career exposure. She believes that youths can learn to feel comfortable in the presence of police officers, and this can be done by teaching them about their rights under the law, as well as having casual contact with officers on a daily basis. 

“I believe in community police because I grew up with that,” Douglas said. “We got to know the officers that we were in the community with, and you got to trust them. And those officers need to be there every day, the same officers. Most people don't trust us because the only time we come into the community is when we hear of crimes,” she said. “We got to give these young people something to look forward to.” 

Contact Evey Weisblat at eweisblat@cityviewnc.com or 216-527-3608. 

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crime, Massey Hill, police, community, Fayetteville

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