It’s only two months into the new decade and Tallahassee has already seen five shootings, one of which was fatal. As gun violence continues to become a growing concern, residents and officials alike are relying on each other for a solution.
Last year, according to data collected by the Tallahassee Democrat, 19 of the 73 reported shootings in Leon County were fatal and 54 people were injured. Although the shootings were not unique to one side of town, there were hotbeds for gun violence in the Northwest region of Tallahassee and on the south side corridor that includes East Magnolia Drive and South Adams Street.
“The shootings happen over a large part of town. A lot of the times when we get an uncooperative victim at the hospital we don’t know where it occurred,” said Tallahassee Police Department Public Information Officer Kevin Bradshaw. “Our shootings in Tallahassee generally revolve around the criminal drug trade.”
While none of the fatal shootings in Tallahassee last year were suicides, an average of 1,626 people in Florida die by gun suicide every year. According to data collected by Everytown for Gun Safety, Florida has the 26th highest rate of gun deaths in the United States, with 63% of them being suicides and 35% being homicides.
According to Officer Bradshaw, victims that show up at the hospital are frequently uncooperative. TPD is focused on building rapport with the community and relying on witnesses and residents feeling comfortable reporting these incidents.
“As far as what we’re doing moving forward, Chief Lawrence Revell, who just took office at the first of the year, has a lot of programs in place to increase community involvement,” said Bradshaw. “Community involvement is one of the biggest things Chief Revell wants. We can’t be there standing in everybody’s yard in the city to make sure nothing bad happens to them. So when people start seeing things that concern them, they feel comfortable calling us.”
Bradshaw also noted that on average, victims and suspects alike are almost unanimously African-American males between the ages of 23 and 25. This average may be influenced by outliers such as the recent three teenage arrests made on Feb. 11 following a drive-by shooting on Blair Stone Road, and the guns are typically stolen during auto-burglaries.
On a micro-level, Bradshaw suggests that people take their firearms inside with them, as it isn’t safe to leave any valuables in the car. The big picture, however, is that Tallahassee as a community has a lot of healing to do as it tries to engage young man who feel disenfranchised.
For Isaiah “Ike” Wilson, the owner of Hiz & Herz Hair Studio that occupies the former storefront of Clippers Barbershop on South Adams, dealing with the stigma attached to areas riddled with gun violence has been frustrating for business yet inspirational and humbling.
“When I first inquired about this place people were saying, ‘Wow, you want to take a chance on that place? That’s a gangster spot…that place is cursed.’ But it’s incidental,” Wilson said. “A lot of people, even the lady next door, suffered.”
Wilson’s business, Hiz & Herz Hair Studio, currently occupies the former storefront of Clippers Barbershop, which saw two fatal shootings last summer. In June, barber Tyras “T.J.” McKinney was gunned down in front of his son by a fellow barber and Alex Harvey was found dead behind the barbershop in August.
“In order [for the community to heal], first you have to accept that it happened. Then you have to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And you can’t screen people to know what kind of person they are but when your energy attracts that type of stuff, that’s what you get,” Wilson said.
Wilson, who recently returned from Bermuda, has been multitasking, renovating the shop with his own two hands in between clients. One of his friends and longtime supporters, Tiffany Belvin, was present during the first fatal shooting at Clippers.
“The atmosphere over here was very nerve racking and the poverty went up because so much was going on that made people not want to come over here to do business. The atmosphere was very scary, let alone with the university across the street. I can only imagine being a student going to school and you’ve got gunshots coming, flying everywhere,” Belvin said.
Until their grand opening in April, the Hiz & Herz team remains optimistic and believes positive energy, good vibes and a complete makeover can turn business and the neighborhood around. Wilson plans on painting a mural on the inside of the shop dedicated to victims of gun violence, such as his son, McKinney, and others whose lives were cut short.
Senior information technology student Cedric Tisdale is also still in recovery mode after a shooting last April where he was struck in the back of the leg outside a house party near Florida A&M University’s campus.
“Mentally it didn’t really affect me, but growing up in Miami that happens all the time,” Tisdale said. “I don’t let it bother me, even though it was a major thing that happened to me. I still dance, I still play football, but at the same time, it does still hurt [physically] and feels weird knowing that I had two holes in my leg.”
Tisdale believes that gun violence is a cultural thing that “depends on the mindset of the people.”
Adner Marcelin, president of the NAACP’s Tallahassee branch, believes that gun violence comes from a lack of economic opportunity and is something the city needs to address.
“One of the things I have advocated for as president of the Tallahassee NAACP branch is that you have to take a holistic view as to why people are committing crimes. People don’t wake up and say, ‘I wanted to commit a crime today.’ People commit crimes when they see opportunity,” Marcelin said.
Marcelin noted that one thing the NAACP has been asking for is more opportunity, growth and the creation of jobs. Specifically, a convention center on the south side of Frenchtown.
“When looking at south side, you have to build economic opportunity,” Marcelin said. “When there’s more productive things to do, people won’t resort to a life of crime.”
Overall, there’s a consensus that the community as a whole needs to be more proactive and hands-on with battling gun violence in Tallahassee.
The Blueprint group, which consists of faith and community leaders, officers and lawyers started meeting this year to discuss a game plan for tackling gun violence. Their overall goal is to get out into the community and reduce crime while working with at-risk youth.
The last meeting before they report their findings to city commissioners and state leaders is scheduled for Thursday, March 26 at 2 p.m. at the Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, at 2015 Lake Bradford Road.