Much attention has been paid since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., to the dual issues of gun violence and mental health.
The Horry County school board has discussed policies and proposals to ensure the safety of our children. Coastal Carolina University just finished hosting a campus safety conference that drew college leaders from across the state. We are all asking how we can keep our communities safer.
But guns and mental health issues are indisputably only two components of a much larger conversation, one that involves everything from socioeconomic status to school bullying to a lack of opportunities for those trying to turn their lives around.
Now local activist Bennie Swans wants to convene a larger meeting of local leaders to develop bigger solutions to community violence.
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Swans’ idea -- and it’s both a good one and not one he is pursuing alone -- is to get representatives from different areas of leadership at the same table to discuss the bigger picture, to talk about how mental health issues impact schools or the link between violence and opportunities for a second chance. Together with a small group of allies, he’s hoping to bring together leaders from schools, churches, politics, business, law enforcement, mental health and more to discuss what can be done to stem the violence in our area.
Swans is quick to point out that objective is neither to ask taxpayers to spend more money or to pursue policies that remove guns from the hands of law-abiding citizens. He hopes instead to talk about what can be done to take better advantage of anti-violence programs already in place and to foster communication between those community leaders uniquely placed to address this stubborn problem.
Just last week, Myrtle Beach police reported that the city’s violent crime rate had increase, albeit only slightly. But any rise is cause for concern, both when it comes to our own safety and as a risk that such a reputation could pose to the area’s livelihood, built as it is on our ability to draw visitors to our communities.
If improving public safety, saving lives and bettering the futures of residents on the bubble isn’t enough for you, this is also about saving money. Every inmate in the S.C. Department of Corrections costs more than $15,000 a year in taxpayer money. That’s not even including the costs of arrests, investigations and courts. Reducing the number sent to our jails and prisons is good for not only our communities, but our pocketbooks as well.
As the Rev. Leonard Love of Myrtle Beach put it last week, “We can’t afford to keep writing off 10 percent of the population.”
Swans and his allies are hoping to convene their discussion in late April, perhaps centered around a friendly baseball game for participants, designed to encourage teamwork and camaraderie. We wish them the best and encourage community leaders to step up and take part if at all possible.
Swans said he has already talked with U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association CEO Stephen Greene, Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes, S.C. Rep. Nelson Hardwick and former solicitor, now S.C. Sen. Greg Hembree.
The hard part will now be to get those leaders, as well as many others, to the same table for a focused discussion of action and solutions.
Will a day of talking lead to magical answers? Perhaps not. But “leaving it alone has not done anything to correct the problem,” Swans pointed out. And it’s an initial step toward a goal we can all support. If it can prevent any crimes or help turn around any lives, a frank conversation is a price that should be easily paid.