Community members, including students, high school counselors and community organizers, gathered Monday night at Columbia Public Library to discuss strategies for combating violence in Columbia.
Leigh Spence, the director of counseling at Battle High School, organized the event to fill what she saw as a vacuum of leadership in response to the shootings. Ten people attended the discussion.
“I was in the process of typing out (on social media), ‘Where’s our city leadership on this topic?’” Spence said. “As I was about to type that, I thought, ‘How can you say that if you’re not willing to do something yourself?’”
Sharla Hyler, a guidance secretary at Battle High School, said staff members are listening to students to understand how counselors can help them.
“Tell us what can be done. Where do we start? What do we do?” she said.
Hyler said she doubts students can remember the original reasons that sparked the violence in the first place.
“I don’t know if they know what their beef is with each other anymore,” she said.
Attendees also discussed Cure Violence, an intervention strategy that relies on trained community members to intervene with peers who are at risk of engaging in violence. The program has been implemented in cities around the world, including Chicago. The program, then called CeaseFire-Chicago, resulted in a decline in shootings in three out of seven neighborhoods that were studied, according to the National Institute of Justice.
Many attendees agreed that a lack of social cohesion is responsible for at least part of the problem. They pointed to the spread of social media and declining participation in community activities, such as church engagement and youth scouting groups, as culprits.
But these resources haven’t always been available to some communities. Tyree Byndom, a local community organizer, pointed out that the Boy Scouts of America was a historically segregated institution. The Scouts remained segregated until the mid-’70s, according to a report from NPR.
Byndom also pointed out that generational memory and institutional forces play a role.
“It’s a pretty ancient thing we’re handing down,” he said. “It’s Cain and Abel.”
Supervising editor is Tynan Stewart.