CHARLOTTE – Homicides in Mecklenburg County are up 119% from last June. That number has increased since.
After trying to approach the problem from a criminal justice perspective, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners will try a different approach, this time with public health concerns in mind.
Representatives from Mecklenburg County Public Health and Atrium Health presented the most recent homicide statistics at the board’s Sept. 17 meeting. The two plan to collaborate to get to the root of the problem and establish a recommended course of action for the board.
Board Chairman George Dunlap said he is excited to explore this issue further with the help of others.
“A lot of people have reached out,” Dunlap said. “They’ve heard our cry and they’re willing to help. And as we start down this road, we’re going to be calling on staff to help us to develop policies, processes and procedures to help address the violence in our community. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Commissioner Vilma Leake said the board has been trying to tackle this issue for a long time and they were not “lazy on the job” when it came to gun violence.
Alisahah Cole, community impact officer for Atrium Health, said the hospital is teaming up with Mecklenburg County Public Health because it is the only level one trauma center in the region and understands the long-term medical effects of violence.
Community violence has been one of the top four issues in the last two community health assessments, according to Gibbie Harris, Mecklenburg County health director.
The community violence report showed that in Charlotte, two in five homicide victims knew their perpetrator and one in 10 homicide victims were killed by a stranger. Also, three in 10 homicide perpetrators were between the ages of 20 and 29.
Equity issues were also noted from the data as 64% of homicide perpetrators were African American and 73% of homicide victims were African American. African American residents were also 7% more likely than caucasian residents to be involved in a homicide death, while Hispanic residents were 4% as likely.
Commissioner Susan Harden said she believes this board has the power to make a big difference in the county’s effort to decrease gun violence.
“I know this board has done big things,” Harden said. “I know the investments made in pre-K that have substantially and will significantly change the directory of the lives of children. And I would say that we should look at this effort with the same intensity and know that the actions that this board would take will save the lives of children.”
Harden also wanted to know if the plan would be finished by the board’s budget retreat in February so they can address it in a significant way.
Harris said even if the plan is not fully complete, there will be enough of a framework to have recommendations for the board in time for its budget retreat.
“There is urgency that others are feeling as well,” Harris said.
Commissioner Trevor Fuller said if gun violence at the national level cannot be tackled in Washington, they can start in the county with the issue of public health.
“As a county, that’s right in our wheelhouse,” Fuller said. “That’s what we do: public health … We know that violence doesn’t just happen. There’s a cause for it. It’s reflective of something. And that’s what gives us the foundation, I believe, for us to take action, for the extent of us on a local level, to address this.”
Fuller said there is space between the issue of public health and the limitations of the Second Amendment, and he believes the board should see just how far they can push.
“I don’t think we ought to be afraid in this area,” Fuller said. “I think we ought to push, and if we do it within the public health context, who can argue with that? … They say, ‘well, guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’ Well, all right, then let’s talk about that then. And if they mean what they say … They should join us in this effort to lay clear the link between these causes of violence and people using weapons to perpetrate the violence. We can’t possibly say that all we have to offer is thoughts and prayers.”
Dunlap said this is only the beginning of the discussion to curb gun violence in the community.
“I’ve heard the concerns throughout this community, I’ve heard from my colleagues and I’ve promised you at some point we will begin this process,” Dunlap said. “Tonight is the beginning of that process where we begin to address this issue.”