Safety concerns, ideas discussed in public forum
The E.M. Rollins Elementary School auditorium was filled to capacity Tuesday night for a public meeting on safety.
Parents, students and concerned residents, about 600 total inside the auditorium and many more spilling outside, were there for what Vance County Superintendent of Schools Ronald Gregory called a first installment of forum discussions on challenges faced by young people growing up in Vance County.
“This is about student concerns,” Gregory said. “This is a focus on kids and what the children think.”
The pre-assigned speakers were all middle and high school students, and adults were given opportunity to also voice their concerns and thoughts if written and submitted ahead of time and kept to a presentation of three minutes or less.
Terri Hedrick, the public information officer for Vance County Schools, solicited additional adult input from the audience minutes before the meeting began.
“Only people with written statements will be speaking tonight,” she said.
Some members of the audience left when told of the format.
There were five adults signed up as of 6:30 p.m., a half hour before the meeting’s start.
The school board's Community and Business Relations Committee developed the idea alongside Gregory, superintendent of Vance County Schools, shortly after the Dec. 11 shooting death of Deonte Judkins, a 16-year-old student at Northern Vance.
Including Judkins, there have been three murders of teens in Henderson in the last eight months. Additionally, a recent spike in crime since the idea of having the meeting has included two people shot to death at a motel Feb. 16; four carjackings, including two involving assaults on women, since Jan. 24; and two armed robberies at vehicles just this past weekend, including one with a man shot.
Television stations which rarely come to Henderson have been in town more with the recent bad news. Police announced an arrest for the two homicides Feb. 16 earlier Tuesday afternoon.
Up to two students from each of the middle and high schools and the early college were scheduled to speak.
Concerns included threats from gangs and violence, including the problem of crime that children see happening in their neighborhoods that spills over into stress and occasional violence in school.
“I think the school is not as safe as it should be,” said eighth-grader Trin Terry. “How many people have to die?”
Eighth-grader Mia Horsey said, “I feel safe at school, but I don’t feel safe on the streets. Honestly, I don’t feel safe in Henderson.”
Northern Vance High School student Sam Long said personal measures for self defense should focus on mace and pepper spray, and plans for a quick get-away, not on more dangerous weapons that often end up hidden for an opportunity of use in anger.
“Weapons are being placed in arms reach with the idea of being for protection, but what is preventing them from being used for violence?” Long said.
“Nowadays young people believe guns are the answer to everything, and that is not true,” said Northern Vance High student Kendra Talley.
Gregory said that having the students speak first was intentional.
“We chose that, because if you want to know what is going on, you need to listen to the children,” he said.
Adults who spoke included a strong representation of pastors and others calling for spiritual solutions, including one woman who began quoting scripture for national repentance, finding many in the audience were familiar with the passage and joined in the recitation.
“If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray . . .” they said.
Pastor Herbert Jones said he would like to see churches leading the way on direct action to make communities safer.
“I would like to see structured neighborhood security,” Jones said. “I believe local churches should spearhead this initiative. The Bible calls them mighty men of valor.”
Granville County-based Assistant District Attorney Cindy Bostic encouraged full-scale involvement in programs to reach children, supporting clubs and activities.
“Support something. Support our kids,” she said. “If we don’t start now, we will lose the battle.”
Gregory, in comments to The Dispatch, said plans for a series of forums on school and student concerns started in early December, and he found a number of recent crime events was distracting people from the original purpose to focus on children’s views.
“I don’t know how all of that has become a part of this,” Gregory said.
Children speakers worked with their teachers and principals to prepare their statements, Gregory said.
The comments submitted will be compiled into a report, and follow-up will include making plans for the next forum.
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