Mississippi community and police march against violent crime

Published 7:48 am Saturday, October 16, 2021

Shantell Johnson has lived in Jackson her entire life and been an outspoken supporter for those with mental health issues for 25 years.

However, the Jackson mother wasn’t advocating for treatment for mental illness when she took the stage in front of Jackson City Hall on Oct. 9.

Johnson, 43, was one of three mothers sharing the loss and pain she has felt since her 28-year-old son, Christopher Johnson, died on Sept. 23 after he was shot on John R. Lynch Street near Highway 80.

“I’m going to be the voice for these mothers whose kids were lost to gun violence along with mental illness,” Johnson said. “We have got a long way to go.”

Earlier last Saturday, some 200 members of law enforcement and the community gathered in front of Jackson Police Department headquarters on Pascagoula Street. As the morning sun filtered through the crowd, people wore shirts with the words “Peace in the Streets, Unity in the Community” surrounding two hands forming a heart.

The rally and subsequent march around a couple of downtown blocks was a signal to residents to come together to stop violent crime.

As of Oct. 9, there were 114 recorded homicides in Jackson in 2021 and, according to Clarion Ledger calculations, 106 of the killings involved a gun. The city is on track to surpass 2020’s record 130 homicides.

Jackson Police Chief James Davis said one of the reasons for the rally was to address the growing number of crime involving youth. In September, two shootings almost 10 days apart resulted in the deaths of a 19-year-old and a 15-year-old. A 17-year-old was shot several times but was taken to the hospital with injuries that weren’t life threatening.

Davis said part of the increased involvement of youth in crime is because parents don’t want to deal with their kids.

Davis said he’s seen instances in which a teen has gotten into trouble with law enforcement, but when police take them home, their parents don’t want to deal with them. So, the child ends up back on the street, wandering around late at night, he explained.

“It’s sad to see grown people hating young people,” Davis said. “It breaks my heart. They’re afraid of young people and all young people want is direction. If we as leaders and family members and parents, if we don’t wrap our arms around these young scholars, the streets will get them and when the streets get them, it’s hard to bring them back.”

Hinds County Interim Sheriff Marshand Crisler said programming needs to be put into place to teach children about the value of life and how to better handle conflict.

In order to do so, Crisler said citizens have to be a part of policing efforts, starting with improved trust between the community and law enforcement. More people need to come forward with vital information about who is committing crimes, Crisler said.

Crisler said the department is focused on coming down harder on crime through efforts like safety checkpoints aimed at getting illegal guns off the streets. He added he’s reached out to sheriff’s departments in Rankin, Madison and Holmes counties about arranging to send Hinds County detainees to their county jails to keep criminals off the streets. The Hinds County Detention Center frequently is full.

For Johnson and Jemeria Williams, whose 24-year-old daughter Shaprinika was killed in February 2020, the march and rally are just a first step in a long process.

The mothers are still waiting for justice for their children.

Williams said her daughter’s killer is still walking free as she waits to learn if progress has been made in the case and whether a trial will occur.

Johnson is stepping forward to push for change, beginning with unifying the community.

“This ain’t the Jackson that I grew up in, this ain’t the Jackson my granny raised 10 kids in, I’m the fourth generation here out of my family and it’s just not the same,” Johnson said.

While Johnson thinks the march was magnificent, she said more people should have been present, especially with 114 homicides in the city.

“This place should have been full,” Johnson said. “At least one person representing each family.”