The weather outside is frightful and so are the families eager to celebrate the holidays after witnessing the noticeable increase in gun-related violence in Tallahassee.
City workers have been illuminating the town with lights, music, live performances, a parade and a 5k run for over 35 years in the name of holiday cheer.
Despite the desire to indulge in Tallahassee’s Winter Festival, has the rise in violent crimes in the city driven people to celebrate in the safety of their homes?
According to national and local violent crime data from 2020, Tallahassee has a violent crime rate twice the national average.
Last year, there were a total of 75 shootings in Tallahassee that resulted in 16 deaths and 51 injuries. 2022 is almost six weeks shy of being over and the shooting statistics have surpassed 2021’s. Tallahassee has had 98 shootings so far this year, resulting in 17 deaths and 79 injuries.
The looming possibility of an innocent outing becoming deadly has a few Tallahassee natives rattled and on-the-fence about participating in the annual holiday traditions.
Retired police sergeant Wes Hawkins elaborated on his experience working in the homicide unit for the Tallahassee Police Department.
“We would have a much smaller crime rate if we took an interest in our children, especially our young Black men,” Hawkins said.
Despite the risks, Hawkins is confident that the festivities will proceed as usual, and the community will come in numbers.
“No, they’re going to come out and they’re not going to hesitate. Most residents are aware that the things that are happening are happening in isolated neighborhoods,” Hawkins said.
Monica Johnson, 38, has lived in Tallahassee for more than 20 years and is an avid Christmas parade attendee. The annual Winter Festival is her favorite event because she loves to see her godchildren appear in it. However, she’s found herself questioning the safety of going in recent years.
“I normally attend the Christmas parade because I have godchildren who participate in it with their school. I’ve hesitated the last few years about going, but I always end up there to support; if they are taking the risk then I can, too,” Johnson said.
There are those who are aware of the gun violence and proceed with their plans, and there are others who are aware of the violence but that is not the reason they’ve stayed home from the holiday celebrations.
FAMU student and Tallahassee native Destiny Gaines says she used to look forward to the holidays and she even participated in the parade one year. However, her lack of interest in the lights, the music and the jingling bells has her sitting out on the fun.
“Unfortunately, Tallahassee has witnessed more violent crimes, but this is not the reason why I’m not participating in the holiday events this year. I personally just lost interest in these holiday events,” Gaines said.