Local leaders want answers, action

by Sarah Fay Campbell

The shooting incidents in the past two weeks have shocked Coweta County, and community leaders are seeking answers and solutions.

A meeting of representatives from various entities, including government agencies, churches and residents of the neighborhoods where the violence broke out, was held last week.

“People are shocked,” said Newnan City Council’s Cynthia Jenkins. “In our city … which was just listed as one of the 50 safest cities in the state.”

“We are doing some things, but some things that we are doing don't need to be public knowledge,” Jenkins said. “We don’t want to give out details of what the police plans are.”

“We’re trying to be strategic, with meeting with various groups, and trying to get together some kind of game plan,” Jenkins said, so that “when we do start asking the members of the public to come to some meetings, we’ve got an agenda, some action plans.”

There need to be areas of focus, she said.

“Right now, we have 20 or 30 people pop up saying, ‘I want to do this, I want to do that,’” Jenkins said. “They are great ideas, but they don’t have any backing. The truth is, all of our efforts concentrated into a few activities will have a much bigger impact than a lot of people doing different things.

“I think this is a time for us to be collective and strategic rather than reactionary,” Jenkins said.

Pastor Tamarkus Cook said plenty of people want to have rallies, marches and public prayers.

“And while I think those things are great conversation starters, those things don’t address the root of the problem,” Cook said. “Those things, they are of little value.

“You can march, you can pray out loud, you can quote scripture in the street. But those things really only apply to people who believe in them,” Cook added.

Cook, who is pastor of St. Smyrna Baptist Church off Franklin Highway, wants to get together with a representative of every church in the community. “Not just black churches,” he said.

He wants every church to “adopt” a family that is in need of mentoring or guidance.

“If every church in the community adopted a family, nurtured a family – I’m not talking about paying bills and things of that nature,” Cook said, but providing moral coaching and guidance “in every facet of that family’s life,” 150 families could be helped. Then those are 150 households where family members are much less likely to commit crimes.

“I think something like that is a tangible goal and it is realistic, more so than a march, a prayer vigil and a service,” he said.

“We’ve got to get out and do something a little more hands-on than the things we’ve done in the past.”

Efforts like marches and prayer vigils just “put a Band-Aid on that part of our conscience that tells us we’re to blame,” Cook said. “If we’re doing something, something is better than nothing. We convince ourselves we’ve done enough.”

Cook hopes he’ll get a buy-in from his church to adopt at least one family, and maybe more. “Maybe there’s some young dad who didn’t have a dad in his life. He doesn’t know how to be a good dad. Now you’ve got access to 200 dads who are willing to commit 52 weeks of pouring into that young father’s life, showing him first-hand how he can have an impact on that child’s life, even if he doesn’t live in that household,” Cook said. “We have a church full of moms who can advise how to nurture and guide children.”

Jenkins would like to see more of a sense of community. “We segregate ourselves within our communities,” she said. People “don’t even talk to their neighbors anymore. I’m guilty of that,” she said.

“If we don’t talk to the people who are in our neighborhood, we don’t know what they are going through,” she said. “We can complain about loud music and partying … but unless we know what is going on, it becomes an us against them kind of thing,” she said.

Another piece of the puzzle is self-sufficiency.

“Part of the problems that we are seeing is people are not self-sufficient,” Cook said. “They are depending on handouts, and, in the interim, while they are waiting on handouts, there is just a gap of nothingness.”

There has become a generation of people who are isolated from community and society, and there is no sense of needing to contribute to society “because they haven’t been exposed to that,” Cook said.

You can tell someone they shouldn’t drop out of school, shouldn’t fight, shouldn’t steal, according to Cook. But how do you tell someone whose parents dropped out of school and whose grandparents dropped out of school how important it is to stay in school?

“How do you tell someone who has grown up in a household where, for a living, their parents ran a liquor house … how do you tell them that you don’t break the law to make a living?” Getting jobs can be hard when you have a criminal record, according to Jenkins. “There are some systemic flaws that push some of these guys right back into the activities they are doing,” she said. With a criminal record, it’s hard to get financial aid in order to go back to school.

Jenkins said that Pastor Jeremy Tuck of Oak Grove Baptist Church has committed to putting together a job fair to help those with criminal records.

Former Coweta County Commissioner Robert Wood wants to see better tracking of guns, to help keep guns out of the hands of those who aren’t supposed to have them.

“Beyond that, we need to get people to understand the value of life,” Wood said, and to understand the consequences violent behavior.

“Because it’s devastating. It’s devastating to the perpetrator and to the victim,” Wood said.

“Our community leaders need to come together and sit down and agree on a common approach,” Wood said. They need to find the leaders of the young people and “sit down and talk to them about the damage that they are doing, not only to the community, but to themselves.”

Wood said there were some comments on previous articles on The Newnan Times-Herald Facebook page from people implying those involved in the violence came from outside of Coweta.

“Somebody said that they need to go back to Union City. But they didn’t come from Union City,” Wood said. “They grew up here. They played on the same football teams and marched in the same bands. They didn’t come down on MARTA and start raising hell. They were raised here.”

Dealing with the problem is “going to take a community effort,” Cook said. “We’ve got to reach everyone who is disenfranchised, and that is the message of Christ Jesus.”

Jesus didn’t spend much time preaching in the synagogues. Instead, “he takes on the disenfranchised, the poor, the lost and the misguided,” Cook said. “We’ve gotten so comfortable within our nice churches… with the people who look like us and talk like us and have the same experiences.

“We’ve forgotten about the people who need us the most. And when we forget about them, this is how they get your attention.”

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