City leaders search for answers to gun violence

The 8th Street Convenience Store looks typical with its yellow sign, red lettering and mural showing a couple of gators and white egrets inside a wetlands landscape.

Blue and red lights changed that landscape Sunday night after law enforcement responded to a drive-by shooting that killed one person and injured four. Less than 24 hours later, two people were injured in another drive-by shooting just miles away.

The drive-by shootings, along with two other shootings in the past month, prompted State Attorney Brian Kramer and Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones to hold a joint press conference on Tuesday to address the violence.

“We’re very concerned that this is going to continue unless the community steps forward and tells the investigators who it is that’s doing this,” Kramer said. “We believe that information is out there.”

A year-over-year look at state-wide data shows overall crime declining but violent crime increasing. From 2019 to 2020, Florida reported 14.1 percent less overall crimes but a 2.3 percent increase in violent crimes.

State attorney Brian Kramer

In Alachua County, crime fell 3.3 percent while violent crimes―including murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggrevated assault―rose 14.7 percent and constituted almost a quarter of the crime.

Murder

  • 2019―6
  • 2020―16

Forcible rape

  • 2019―282
  • 2020―236

Robbery

  • 2019―293
  • 2020―350

Aggravated Assault

  • 2019―1,184
  • 2020―1,423

With 8,714 crimes reported, Alachua County ranked 14th for the counties in Florida with the most incidents in 2020.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Kramer emphasized the role of the public and said the violence will likely continue without its help.

Pastor Karl Anderson agrees that community is the answer to gun violence.

The Gainesville native grew up on the east side and began working in gun violence prevention after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. He started People Against Violence Enterprises and began the annual Stop the Violence Back to School Rally.

“We need to be accountable to our community, and let our community know that we don’t want anything to happen to anybody,” Anderson said in a phone interview. “So, whether they call me a snitch or not, let’s be responsible and report it.”

He said the COVID-19 pandemic added some fuel to the fire, giving people idle time and causing others to relax safety measures such as locking doors.

Karl Anderson, senior pastor of Upper Room Ministries

Gainesville needs to take steps to stop the current carnage, Anderson said, and that starts with parent symposiums to educate on violence prevention and gun safety.

Long term, Anderson said the city needs more youth mentors, to address disparities and the poverty gap and making sure children can access education and vocational schools.

He said the youth need to know the serious consequences of the violence, and the community needs to show that each life matters.

“But right now, to stop the immediate bleed, we’ve got to address gun safety and also community responsibility,” Anderson said.

Gerard Duncan is another Gainesville pastor and leads Prayers by Faith Ministries, partnering with underserved communities since the early 2000s.

In a phone interview the week before the drive-by shootings, he said that Gainesville needs something beyond the police to increase public safety.

“It’s going to take more than law enforcement,” Duncan said. “It’s going to take community involvement as well.”

Gerard Duncan

One of the greatest needs in the city is parental involvement and support, said Duncan, who is working to fill that need.

He developed Innovative Dad and started training mentors to support local young people. He said when parents are equipped and involved, their children are more likely to graduate and be successful.

When that parental support vanishes, problems sometimes arise, Duncan said. Among juvenile delinquents and those who run away from home, 70 percent come from single-parent homes, according to the Duke University Journal of Gender Law and Policy.

“There are a lot of resources in Gainesville,” Duncan said. “But I would also say the community of Gainesville is not well-connected.”

Anderson agrees.

“There was once upon a time when there was unity in the community, and even when it came to children and youth, everybody kind of watched out for one another,” Anderson said.

Parents told other parents what their children did or addressed the issue themselves. He says the community needs to unite, sharing information and wrapping its arms around young people.

“We’ve done it before; we can do it again,” Anderson said. “We just need to be together for each other.”

In the past month, at least 13 people have been shot in Gainesville and two killed:

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