Lima panel talks gangs, gun violence at forum

LIMA — When it comes to gun violence in Lima, the Lima Area Black Ministerial Alliance wanted to get a message out to the community at a gun violence forum it hosted Thursday evening at the Lima Public Library.

“We can come together as a community,” said the Rev. Arthur Butler, of Providence Missionary Baptist Church. “This is a community issue. Our children are out there getting guns, and we don’t know where they’re coming from, and we’ve got to stop this. Lima is our home, and if we don’t stop this, no one else is going to do it.”

Thursday’s forum was a follow-up from a similar forum held in December and included representation from the ministerial alliance, as well as Allen County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Reed, Lima schools Superintendent Jill Ackerman and Lima Police Maj. Ron Holman.

For the panel, the fact that there have been four homicides in Lima since the beginning of the year, two of them students, demonstrates all too clearly the need for positive action in the area of gun violence.

“Since we’ve been together the last time, we have lost two students to violence, one to gun violence,” Ackerman said. “So it weighs heavily on our hearts. Every time something happens, we are re-examining what we’re doing and if we’re lacking anything.”

One topic that came up during questions from attendees was the issue of gangs, particularly in middle schools. Ackerman, Butler and others acknowledged the presence of gangs in Lima schools and throughout the county, saying students have spoken with them about this activity, but they could only say so much. Butler mentioned one interaction with a student who was able to get out of a gang.

“I said, ‘Are there any repercussions to that?’” Butler said. “He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Who is the gang leader over this gang?’ He said, ‘I can’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you this. I’m out of the gang, but I have to be careful who they see me with. I have to be careful who they see me talk to. If they see me talking to the wrong person or on a video with the wrong person, Pastor, they’ll take me out.’”

One of the issues prolonging gun violence is the issue of retaliation, Reed said, as rival gangs or groups continue to attack each other over previous shootings.

“Some of these beefs go back years to when some of these kids were in diapers,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s when so-and-so got shot. Remember that from 10 years ago?’ Now it’s retaliation after retaliation, and I don’t know how to stop it.”

The alliance is hoping to eventually bring rival gang members together to try to stop the violence, and they are also hoping to eventually have a location where young people can come and receive mentoring and counseling to help them avoid getting trapped in a violent lifestyle. The alliance is also looking at efforts in areas such as New York and Detroit to see what strategies can work in Lima.

In the end, more work needs to be done in the home and when these children are younger to help break the pattern of violence, multiple speakers said.

“This goes back to the parents, and as a community, as a group in here, all of you have got some good ideas,” Reed said. “Maybe we could have some parental support groups.”

Lima Police Chief Angel Cortes said at the end of the meeting, “It’s about family, and it doesn’t have to be parents or grandparents. It can be somebody showing these kids love. And it’s about the church, too. We’ve got to start bringing these kids back to the church.”