WALB Investigates: Albany city leaders discuss increase in gun violence among minors

Full WALB Investigates story: Albany city leaders discuss increase in gun violence
Published: Jun. 16, 2023 at 8:10 PM EDT
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - There is a crisis in this country that has filtered down to nearly every town in America.

More kids are using guns, and are being killed by guns, than ever before.

More kids are killed in the United States in gun-related incidents than by anything else — more than car crashes or any health issue.

Bishop Frederick Williams tries to look at crime through the lens of a minister. But he’s also impacted as a father and grandfather.

“When there is a homicide or there is a mugging or somebody’s hurt, the first person they call is the church. So a lot of times I’m right on the scene,” Williams said. “I have, believe it or not, 11 grandchildren, and five little girls and five little boys. And I’m contemplating — is this the city I want them to grow up in, because we’re not doing enough to make the city safe.”

Williams started the Albany Stop the Violence chapter after a tragedy of his own. His sister was murdered in East Albany in 2009. For the past decade, he’s led Stop the Violence in Albany – working proactively to mentor, advocate – and break the cycle of gun violence through intervention.

“When we remove a child from a toxic environment, by the age of 12, they’re 85% more likely to succeed in life,” said Williams. “And I keep that in my mind. Not just taking them from their parent, but maybe have to move the parent from that environment. So sometimes we try to uproot them and put them on a whole nother side of town and give them another group of people and friends. And surprisingly, it works.”

Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards said his observation of an increase in gun violence among minors is a fact, according to the raw numbers.

“In 2020, there were eleven cases,” Edwards said. “In 2021, there were 30 cases, more than triple almost the number that had been involved in 2020. And in 2022, there were 34 cases involving juveniles with guns in some capacity.”

Someone else who’s been touched by gun violence is Larry McCray Sr. His 18-year-old son was murdered on March 2, 2019.

“The way I look at gun violence in senseless shootings, totally different way,” McCray said. “I mean, it’s like being that it happened to my son before prior to my son, you know, you hear somebody got shot, and ‘oh, man,’ you know. But now I’m an actual victim. And with it happening so much on and on and on, it’s like, every gunshot it affects me myself, mentally, you know, different.”

McCray believes there is a way to break the cycle.

“I would think if we can somehow incorporate more activities for the youth, you know, and not just, you know, the happy-go-lucky activism, I mean, more on a spiritual side, more religious, you know, more religious events and stuff like that, to get, you know, our youth involved and everything. Because one thing about it, you know, we’re straying away from, you know, Christ and Christ-like activities,” McCray said.

When Stardust 2 Skate Center shut down, many wondered what there is to do for young people in Albany.

We spoke with multiple city leaders —many say hobbies and interests, rather than leisurely activities, result in a more positive, healthy and fulfilling life. Albany Police Chief Michael Persley agrees.

“You can only skate so much, you can only go to putt-putt so much, you can only walk around the mall so much,” Persley said. “But you have to have something for them to do that’s going to stimulate them, keep them engaged, and show them that there’s a whole world out there and really add to that.”

Rodriquez Thomas founded Our Kids Our Future. The organization hosts food giveaways, back-to-school drives and even kickball games. His idea is, if we all do a little to help others, we will all move forward.

“This city wasn’t called the ‘Good Life City’ for nothing,” Thomas said. “It births amazing people. And there still are amazing people, but we just have to hone into it and say enough is enough, and if I do my part, I don’t have to worry about anybody else. So, our kids our future is simply doing our part to say if nobody cares we care.”

For McCray Jr., music was his escape.

“My son, you know, it was one I know, he inspired a lot of his friends, you know, to get involved with music and, you know, a lot of stuff like that,” McCray Sr. said.

“Them going into a studio and creating a podcast or going into a studio and making music, these kids just need something to utilize their time,” Thomas said. “I think a lot of these places don’t have anything for these kids to utilize their time. An idle mind is a devil’s playground, and I think some of these kids have nothing but time.”

“I was angrier than anyone when my sister’s life was taken,” said Williams. “But looking deep and deeper than his exterior, I saw a little boy who was trapped in a system who would be locked up the rest of his life without parole. But my heart was that he finds God and not been put to death at an early age. And so I encourage everybody to stop saying it’s not my problem. It’s all of our problem. And if you in Albany, Georgia take part of what we’re doing. A lot of people think that when we say starting out if we’re going out in the combat area, and that’s not what we’re doing. But sitting at a round table, you know, sometimes you can make big machinery work by the push of a button. So I want you to just consider that.”

These discussions are a good place to start, but as Bishop Williams says we all have to collaborate.

As WALB continues this series – we want to know the issues you care about most. Message Heidi Paxson on Facebook for feedback on which issues you would like to see us cover next. These open conversations include everyone and hopefully are a step in the right direction.