Jack and Jill forum brings gun violence issues into full view

Jack and Jill forum brings gun violence issues into full view

By Adjoa Danso


Earlier this month, the Columbus chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Sandy Hook Promise, and the YMCA of Columbus Georgia invited youth and members of the community to a conversation about gun violence prevention. Elected officials, community activists, law enforcement, and licensed counseling professionals spoke to the root causes of gun violence and potential interventions to decrease it.

The forum came in the wake of increased gun-related crime throughout 2023. From Feb. 16-19, last year, eight shootings claimed the lives of five Columbus residents in the span of just 72 hours. One incident landed nine children, including a 5-year-old, in the hospital. 

According to Muscogee County School Board Chair Rep. Patricia Hugley Green, young people account for 58 percent of all gun violence deaths in Columbus, and 133 children and teens die by guns every year. She emphasized the effects of Georgia’s Safe Carry Protection Act, commonly called the Guns Everywhere Law, which allows residents to carry concealed guns into school zones, churches, bars, and other locations with the proper permits.

Mechelle Virgin, an advocate against domestic violence, shared the story of her daughter’s murder as she called for stricter laws for offenders with a history of violence. Destinee Virgin, 18, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2018 months after he kidnapped her. Markel Ervin, 17, was out on bond for felony charges, and protective orders were in place, when he obtained a gun illegally and killed Destinee. 

Mayor B.H. “Skip” Henderson and Deputy Chief Lance Deaton of the Columbus Police Department assured the community that Columbus is investing in ways to curb gun violence. Henderson cited nearly $1 million in taxes allocated to local programs and resources aimed at reducing gun-related crime. Deaton said the city applied for and received $1.5 million from Gov. Brian Kemp’s Violent Crime Reduction Grant. Other panelists, former gang members themselves, stressed the importance of those funds going toward after school programs and neighborhood functions to give kids alternatives to dangerous activities. “It’s too much space in Columbus to not be utilized for the kids,” one said.

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