It’s disturbing to learn, as the Journal reported last week, that homicides in Winston-Salem were at a 25-year high last year.
There were 31 homicides in 2019, compared to 26 in 2018.
But it’s no reason to hide at home. The deaths don’t represent a crime wave. For most of us, our city is still very safe.
And Winston-Salem police are hard at work to improve the situation.
It’s difficult to read about the killings. And we shouldn’t make generalities about them. Some of the victims were young: four teenagers, a 5-year-old and a 7-month-old baby. Some were older: a couple of men were in their 60s and one woman was 91.
Most were men in their 20s or 30s.
And the killings were spread throughout much of the city.
Motive is also hard to assign, especially in the case of the 17 homicides for which no one has yet been charged. (The 18th case with no charge was that of Steven Haizlip, who was shot by police after allegedly killing Terry Lee Cobb Jr. in December.) Some of the deaths, no doubt, involved robberies or drug deals gone bad. Others were the result of arguments that got out of hand. Some were indiscriminate acts, like the case of two 17-year-old men and two teens who drove through an apartment complex randomly firing handguns into apartments in July.
The one near-commonality is that guns were involved in 25 of the 31 homicides.
This isn’t necessarily a call for more gun control — though some common-sense laws certainly should be considered. But many of the handguns used in 2019’s homicides were obtained illegally.
Some guns could have been obtained from auto break-ins and straw purchases — where someone with a clean record buys the gun and passes it along — Winston-Salem police Capt. Steven Tollie, head of the police department’s Criminal Investigations Division, told the Journal. A few gun stores in the Triad have been robbed in recent years also, Tollie said.
Some guns may have been passed from one criminal to another.
Those killers had no business possessing guns.
Other city residents were wounded by gunfire in 2019. And in several cases, high-school students in Forsyth County were arrested for carrying guns onto their school campuses.
Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson considers gun violence to be the biggest challenge facing the city’s law enforcement, she said following Cobb’s death in December.
The Winston-Salem Police Department works aggressively to keep illegal guns off the street and were on track to seize 1,000 guns in 2019, compared to around 700 in 2018, Tollie said.
Good. We’d like to see that number drop precipitously in 2020.
Others can help, including parents, civic leaders and educators. We can teach children that there are better ways to resolve conflicts than picking up a gun.
But there’s no one solution; there are probably a thousand.
Despite the rise in gun violence, we live in one of the safest communities in the nation — and the safest city in North Carolina, according to WalletHub.com, which considered 41 indicators of safety and more than 180 cities across the nation. Our downtown area, once seen as sketchy, is now brightly lit and populated enough to create an air of comfort. Residents are generally courteous and approachable — and usually not involved in questionable activities that might lead to violence.
Tragedies occur and we don’t mean to diminish their impact. Everyone should proceed with awareness of their environment.
But we can also walk with confidence, knowing that the odds are with us.