On Monday evening, a group of educational, political and community leaders met in the boardroom at Brandon Central Services to discuss gun violence.
In some respects, it was not unlike crime prevention meetings that have preceded it. No solution was offered; no plan was formulated.
But that is not to say the meeting did not serve an important purpose.
The meeting was more narrowly focused on the impact of gun violence among students and what measures can be taken to ensure the safety of our schoolchildren.
During the meeting, it was stated that shootings in Columbus have surged from 58 in 2020 to 348 in 2021, a six-fold increase. Such an increase — if it were true — would be horrifying, but in fact these statistics represented a misleading and irresponsible apples-to-oranges comparison. When pressed for details on those numbers, Columbus Police Chief Fred Shelton said that the 2020 number (58) represented the number of reports of shots fired that resulted in the creation of a case file. In 2021, the department changed the way they tracked shootings, so the number for that year (348) represents every claim of shots fired, regardless of whether it was a credible claim.
Unfortunately, these misleading numbers don’t communicate anything.
Another number cited at the meeting did hold a sobering meaning, though.
That’s the number of Columbus Municipal School District children who have directly been affected by gun violence over the past five years, either as the shooter or the person shot.
Regardless of their role, any child involved in gun violence is a victim.
There is, in some quarters, a belief that the violence we see among our school children is a reflection of the schools, that there is a lack of order and discipline in the school environment that spills out into the community. It’s far more likely that it is the other way around.
Backpacks aren’t the only thing kids bring with them to school. They bring with them the trauma, the fear, the frustration, the neglect, the poverty they find in their homes, in their neighborhoods.
Where gun violence is concerned, it’s not a school problem. It’s a community problem.
Our schools are a rallying point in times of trouble. That’s always been true.
Near the end of the meeting, county supervisor Leroy Brooks held up a photo taken in 2007, shortly after the community rallied in overwhelming numbers to pass a $22 million bond to build a new middle school. The photo included people of all demographics — Black and white, male and female, young and old. It was a snapshot of a community united by a common goal and purpose.
A similar photo was taken Monday night, with some attendees of the meeting rallied around CMSD superintendent Cherie Labat. In that photo are the same kinds of faces, the faces of a community determined to work together as one toward an important goal.
As a community, we need to maintain the composure necessary to tackle this pressing issue. A key part of that is relying on solid data in order to know what we’re dealing with. In a panicked state, we are far more likely to point fingers rather than work together, to mistake allies for adversaries.
Comparing apples to oranges to make gun violence seem out of control does not work to that end. Keeping numbers like 71 in mind does, though. That’s a number that should bring us together, not tear us apart.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.