07/15/12 — Protest against city crime provides no answers

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Protest against city crime provides no answers

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on July 15, 2012 1:50 AM

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Alicia Goldsby marches in a rally against violence in the city of Goldsboro at City Hall on Saturday morning. The state of North Carolina has seen a drop in violent crime over the past year, but crime is on the rise in Goldsboro.

It was an argument that effectively ended what had been an otherwise lackluster protest Saturday morning, one which was all at once about politics, violence and parenting.

But in bringing it to an end, the verbal sparring also punctuated what those in attendance saw as Goldsboro's true problem -- a lack of consensus in dealing with its escalating crime.

The discussion concerned laws, with one woman declaring that everyone should follow the law while another claimed that the laws -- like the zero tolerance policies in Wayne County Public Schools -- were too rigid.

The protest, intended to be against violent crime, was organized by James Hinnant, but as he stood by and listened to the dialogue, it only served as more evidence that while those gathered agreed they want to reduce crime, there is little agreement on the means to that end.

"Goldsboro is in a crisis," he said after those gathered dispersed.

Hinnant said the Goldsboro City Council's suggestions to the mothers of victims at a June 4 council meeting were not enough.

At that meeting, District 4 Councilman Charles Williams suggested the communities form neighborhood watch organizations to reduce crime. When pressed about the lack of activities to keep children off the street, he suggested they contact Parks and Recreation for information about programs.

"That's not what I call a pro-active solution," Hinnant said. "Here they are courting our votes and this is the best they can do?"

Hinnant addressed the crowd after noon, although protesters had been arriving at the corner of Mulberry and Center streets since 11:30 a.m. carrying signs.

He suggested that programs from Parks and Recreation would not suffice to bring down the crime rate, saying that those who walk around with guns aren't going to want to play in a sandbox.

But others seemed to disagree, as one sign proclaimed that more recreation centers would lead to less crime -- another display of how among the two dozen activists there were nearly as many ideas about how to remedy the city's crime problems.

Hinnant said he wished Williams had instead agreed to meet with the police chief to unleash saturation patrols in the city's most criminalized areas, but at the same time suggested he didn't trust the way laws were enforced.

"Laws today -- the way they're structured -- do nothing to stop crime," Hinnant said, explaining that he is concerned that punishments, both at school and in courtrooms don't take into account how they perpetuate the problems the law aims to curb.

By sending a scuffling teenager home for a five-day suspension, he said, the school system allows him to sit idly -- which leaves him time to become involved in gangs, drugs and other criminal activity.

Hinnant also took issue with punishing students who fought in school in self defense, saying that fault and subsequent punishment should only be assigned to the students who begin fights.

He said he would like to see more discretion applied to punishments, even as the woman who advocated more law-abiding continued to talk with another protester within earshot.

The divisive talk hearkened back to the last public demonstration against violent crime on June 29 when another 25 concerned citizens turned out to show support at a meeting between community leaders and city officials.

The organizer of that meeting, Richard Taylor, addressed supporters there, where there were suggestions that those who saw crime in their neighborhood should report it.

Taylor, who acknowledged he had served time at the meeting, suggested that wasn't the solution, since it would only lead to putting more people behind bars, setting into motion the criminal cycle that further disenfranchises young men who make mistakes.

A follow-up meeting from that discourse is scheduled for July 24 at Goldsboro Chapel Free Will Baptist Church, where city officials will answer questions from residents about police protection, budgets and the allocations of Community Development Block Grant funding.

It's the next step toward change for a city that has grown tired of crime, but is still unsure of what the remedy to it is.