‘We’re going in after our kids’

A July shooting on Spring and Cole Streets reignited anti-gun violence efforts in Lima. Will the incident mark a turning point?

LIMA — In late July, a 10-year-old girl was struck by a bullet as she was leaving a family gathering on Cole and Spring Streets.

It was the second time that the girl, one of two people injured that evening, had been caught in crossfire after the shooting death of DeJuan Adams, 26, days earlier. But it also revived efforts to mediate conflict, treat generational trauma and examine the city’s response to gun violence.

“At that point, for me, it was enough is enough,” said Mayor Sharetta Smith, who organized several listening sessions after the shootings to solicit feedback from the community. “This is a 10-year-old, and this is something that she will remember for the rest of her life.”

‘A deep hurt’

Frustrated by the shootings, members of the Lima Area Black Ministerial Alliance hosted their own forum in August alongside administrators from Lima schools, who talked about the toll the city’s gun violence has had on students.

Few community members attended.

“We just want the violence to stop and find better ways, different ways to handle disputes,” said Cleven Jones, Shiloh Baptist Church pastor and member of the LABMA gun violence task force, which is trying to find outlets for unsupervised youth and mediate conflicts before they turn deadly.

“We’re going after our kids,” said Pastor Tommy Pitts, former 5th Ward councilor and member of the LABMA task force. “That’s what we’re doing to save lives.”

The mission is personal for many LABMA members, who are often called upon to eulogize the dead and testify in court.

“Nine times out of 10 it’s a kid that they know … that we couldn’t reach,” said the Rev. Arthur Butler, Providence Baptist Church pastor and LABMA president. “That’s a deep hurt.”

Cycles of trauma

By September, Lima had its own chapter of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, an advocacy group working to expand access to trauma recovery centers, preventative resources and rehabilitation in Ohio and other states.

The chapter was founded by Lima native Dyesha Darby, a statewide manager for CSSJ who had recently lost two family members and a mentee to gun violence in her hometown, providing fellow crime survivors with a space to meet one another and advocate for themselves.

“We know that when trauma goes unaddressed, violence happens,” said Darby, who’d like to see a comprehensive trauma center in Lima one day. “When people don’t have the tools they need, they end up contributing in toxic ways to those cycles of crime: drinking too much, fighting, different types of violence.”

Smith praised the effort, saying the city is open to continuing discussions about bringing a trauma center to Lima: “It really focuses on that healing: How do you get families to move beyond something that was as detrimental and devastating as being a gun violence survivor,” she said.

A shift in patrols

Residents who attended the city’s listening sessions spoke of the lack of supervision for youth involved in juvenile crime; the need for a central location where families can access services; and the desire for police to develop deeper relationships with the community, Smith said.

Soon after, the Lima Fire Department announced it would perform random occupancy checks to keep bars from becoming overcrowded, while the Lima Police Department identified neighborhoods in need of additional patrols and purchased gunshot-detection software so officers respond to shootings more quickly — and deter shooters altogether.

“We realized that we were not in the areas that we needed to be in and we weren’t distributing our manpower equitably across the city,” said Lima Police Chief Angel Cortes, who said officers now “feel like they’re part of the neighborhood” since LPD started giving permanent assignments, rather than rotating officers each shift.

The city plans to purchase at least 77 streetlights next year and continue to remove blighted properties so neighborhoods feel safer, Smith said. And by spring, Smith intends to launch a new program to bring teens and young adults into the workforce, noting the “strong correlation” between poverty, crime and gun violence.

Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice

Next meeting is 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, at the Bradfield Community Center, 550 S. Collett St., Lima. Register online at https://mobilize.us/s/M6wWCE.