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Big crowd attends forum on violence in Carbondale

Submitted by Carbondale Times on

Geoffrey Ritter
Carbondale Times

From race and the economy to a simple sense of disconnect between neighbors, citizens have plenty of theories regarding what is driving a spate of violence in Carbondale. Solutions, however, prove harder to find than the causes themselves.

About 175 people crowded into the Carbondale Civic Center April 21 for a forum on violence in the community, igniting a conversation largely about what can be done to improve safety in Carbondale and what societal failings may have led to the recent shootings.

The conversation, facilitated by Dr. John Washburn, came following an unusually violent three months in Carbondale during which eight people have been victims of gunfire, two of them fatally. The primary instigator for the forum was the Easter Sunday death of 41-year-old Tim Beaty, who was struck by stray gunfire as he was helping others to take shelter from it. The people so far alleged to have been involved in that gunfight were not from Carbondale, but rather Missouri.

Beaty’s mother, Kittie McMillan, was in attendance, and toward the end of the event, she said she had heard some great ideas but also some examples of people pushing their own personal agendas. She said the solution has to come from better fostering of the youth in the community.

“What we have to start doing is addressing the mindset of our youth,” McMillan said. “We have got to start working with our young people to change their mindset. Until you get there, this will continue.”

The mindset of youth, it turns out, was a major focus of many in attendance. Randy Osborn, the director of the Boys and Girls Club, said it is often easier for kids to get their hands on a gun than it is a laptop — and even those responsible kids who try to do well in school may not be rewarded for their diligence with jobs.

Osborn said children share the town with the adults, but they are not always treated as equal shareholders. He urged citizens to reach out more and try to connect with the youth they encounter.

“This is their town,” Osborn said. “We feel like we belong … but how many children do you know who feel like this is their town? Be a patron to kids. Speak to a child you don’t know. Step back and see what they do. Ask them a question.”

Public safety and policing also took top priority. Many residents expressed concern about large gatherings and parties where violence occasionally follows, including the party on West Walnut Street Easter Sunday. 

Many encouraged more foot patrols by police as a way to keep such parties in check. Fr. Bob Flannery of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church said he used to walk to the Varsity Theater from his home to see the latest Stage Company production, but something in Carbondale has changed that makes him more leery of doing that now.

“I would regularly walk and not worry about it, but I do worry about it now,” Flannery said. “I’ve seen a big change in the last five years.”

Laying the issue solely at the feet of police, however, is not the solution, some said. Randy Burnside, an associate professor in SIU’s Department of Political Science, said unfair assumptions exist on both sides of the police-citizen divide.

“It goes both ways,” Burnside said. “Some people are unfairly criminalized, and some people have an unfair mistrust of police.”

Concerns also were raised about the magnitude of crimes that go unreported, leaving the relatively small number of people committing crimes to operate without check from the law-abiding community. 

Bob Bahr, who heads up Crime Stoppers, said citizens can utilize the organization’s phone number, 618-549-COPS, to anonymously report tips on possibly criminal activity.

Many pointed out that citizens need to be more aware of crime around them and report it out of civic obligation.

“It’s your public responsibility to report incidents to police,” Jane Adams said. “The university needs to let students know their responsibilities.”

Among those in attendance at the forum were Police Chief Jeff Grubbs, as well as many of his officers. Also on hand were Mayor Mike Henry, Interim City Manager Gary Williams, all of the members of the Carbondale City Council, and SIUC Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell. Some of the more prevalent issues raised at the forum are expected to generate further conversation in the weeks ahead.

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