By STACIE LETT CAIN
From the process of the judicial system to crime on the streets of South Statesville, citizens gathered at the Bentley Community Center on Tuesday to demand answers and educate themselves on the judicial system.
The event was organized by Councilwoman Doris Allison through Community Resources for the City of Statesville. Iredell County Resident Superior Court Judge Joseph Crosswhite, Statesville Police Chief David Addison and Iredell County Sheriff Darren Campbell were all on hand to answer questions about the judicial system.
Community Resource Coordinator Turkessia Brown Evans moderated the event, explaining that the evening had been orchestrated to give general information about how the judicial system works and asked those in attendance to not get into any specific cases.
And although Judge Crosswhite directed his comments to the inner-workings of the system, the importance of community involvement in the judiciary through jury duty and how lucky we are to have the system we do, it wasn’t long before the elephant in the room was acknowledged.
When asked how to deal with the issues of crime, drug addiction and incarceration of the city’s youth, Crosswhite advised that, in his courtroom, he sees a common thread.
“I would guess that 80 to 90 percent of crime either involves drugs or some kind of mental issues,” he said.
And although he mentioned several programs in existence geared at assisting with those issues, the idea of when to begin intervention became the focus.
“Education is a lot cheaper than rehabilitation,” Sheriff Campbell stated. “We have to get to these kids before they turn to gangs. The programs we have work if we can get the kids into the programs. We have kids ranging from 9 to 15 years old in our programs and they aren’t out committing crimes.”
But Tina Williams of the Success Institute questioned how effective those programs can be when they aren’t being introduced until the children are already exhibiting behaviors that are of concern.
“I am an educator, and I am here to tell you that if you wait until they start acting out, it’s too late,” she said. “We need to start at home when these kids are not even in kindergarten yet and start teaching them what they need to know.”
Citing that many youth who find themselves in trouble are children with Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) who have either stopped taking medications for mental issues or have failed to utilize services geared to help them negotiate their education, Williams called for action and not just discussions.
“We are looking at youth who get lost on the path and end up serving thirty years because no one got involved,” she said. “We need action, not round-robin talks about what should be done.”
The conversation became more serious when, despite the request to not discuss specific instances, comments were made about the recent tragedy in Statesville.
On June 28, 8-year-old Ah’Miyahh Howell was killed in a drive-by shooting outside of her home on Wilson Lee Boulevard. Some residents expressed frustration that although the issues are often talked about, no action is ever taken to make a difference on the streets.
But Eva Harold, a South Statesville resident, disagreed that nothing was being done.
“There are people every day reaching out but you may not see it,” she explained. “People hand out water and food to children in the neighborhood and we sit and talk with them. We take time with these children every day, but you may not know that because we don’t broadcast it to everyone. But that doesn’t mean those things aren’t being done.”
One frustration shared by many in attendance was the fact that although invited, District Attorney Sarah Kirkman was not present at the forum, nor were any of her staff members.
“We have a D.A. and 15 assistants and not one of them could find the time to come,” Doris Allison explained. “If you are upset about that, you have outlets that you can notify to have them hear that you are not okay with that. We need to get some answers.”
This frustration was shared by Cortney Hayden, a veteran and lifelong Statesville resident who attended the meeting.
“It is so upsetting to me how ignorant people are about what is going on right in front of their faces,” he explained. “We elected these people. We voted them in and we can vote them out. We need to stop playing. We have more power than the elected officials. We just have to be educated enough to use it.”