Southwest Ga. group pushing communities to take action against gun violence

The group is also calling for responsible gun ownership.
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 6:27 PM EDT
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Kids should feel safe playing in a public park. But earlier in 2023, four people were shot at a basketball court at Albany’s Driskell Park. The victims ranged in age from 12 to 25.

Incidents like that are one reason why Southwest Georgia Rising wants to help communities turn the tide against gun violence.

“We’re not just in the city of Albany, but surrounding counties. And not just for gang-related suicides. We’re doing all and we’re not leaving no one out,” Yolanda Brown, who is the mother of the late Nigel Brown who was a victim of gun violence, said.

“We’ve seen a rise in suicide. We’ve seen a rise of domestic violence in our country. And we need mental health solutions for people that are just not doing well, and so they have mental trauma,” Executive Director of SOWEGA Rising Sherrell Byrd said. “And they’re causing more trauma with gun violence, so we need solutions for mental health.”

Sherrell Byrd, second from left, is the executive director for SOWEGA Rising. Tracy Taylor,...
Sherrell Byrd, second from left, is the executive director for SOWEGA Rising. Tracy Taylor, third from left, is also a community leader. Yolanda Brown, far right, is the mother of Nigel Brown who was a victim of gun violence.(WALB)

Byrd says part of the solution is contacting your local lawmakers.

“Call your leaders, call your senators, call your local commissioners, and let them know they need to do policies now. And we need to act now,” Byrd said. “We’re one of the countries that has the most violence out of any other nation in America. And there’s other nations that have shown that you can protect your citizens. We need America to do the same.”

The group is also calling for responsible gun ownership.

“Flashing guns and carrying guns has been a badge of honor so to speak right now,” Community leader Tracy Taylor said. “So that’s why people are so relaxed and so calm about picking up a gun and not properly trained to handle a gun. And not properly trained to shoot a gun. So that’s what we’re doing. We’re bringing awareness.”

Byrd has even personally dealt with gun violence recently.

“I had the unfortunate opportunity to be at a training on the very day of the recent Atlanta mass shooting,” Byrd said. “And so I remember us all being whisked away out of the training and having to shelter in place and be in our room on lockdown for about seven hours that day, as they were trying to find the person that did it.”

But even since the mass shooting in Atlanta earlier in May, the violence has still continued.

“It’s not enough to keep having thoughts and prayers in these moments,” Byrd said. “We have to have action behind it. And we have to have policy so that these things won’t keep coming closer and closer to, well, they’re in every community. We actually, the next day, saw another mass shooting in Moultrie on May 4th. And so we can’t say ‘well, it’s not in my neighborhood.’ Cause it could be in our neighborhood.”

Representatives with Flock Safety, a company that makes technology to capture photos of license plates, say they’re working to help combat the issue similar to how their technology helped in the Atlanta mass shooting.

“We’ve been working with the authorities, the city officials and the police department there to make sure that this technology is as effective as possible and placed in the right areas so that it can, again, alert dispatch perhaps before 911 even does,” Holly Beilin, a spokesperson for Flock Safety, said. “Or sometimes, 911 is never even called so that we can address this rising gun crime in Albany and then eventually hopefully reduce it.”

Following National Gun Violence Awareness Day on June 2, Southwest Georgia Rising will hold a community rally on Saturday, June 3 at noon at the Ray Charles Plaza in Albany.