Myrtle Beach-area churches work together with hope to tackle violence in the community

While the violence that happened during Memorial Day weekend in Myrtle Beach has garnered state-wide and national attention, representatives from local churches say gangs and crime have been an issue for years – and something needs to be done.

Members of about six churches met Sunday at Sandy Grove Baptist Church to begin to formulate a plan to address gang violence in Myrtle Beach and throughout Horry County.

“I’m not worried about Bikefest, I’m talking about the gangs that are in our communities,” the Rev. Fred Johnson of Sandy Grove said.

He said it was interesting that there have been shootings and killings going on in areas of Myrtle Beach for years and there has been very little outcry, but when the shootings occur on Memorial Day weekend – during Atlantic Beach Bikefest – people respond.

“As long as it was back here in [Booker T. Washington], or Harlem, or Racepath, it wasn’t getting too much publicity,” he said. “But when it moves three streets over to [Ocean] Boulevard, it becomes a problem.”

Three people were killed and seven were injured in eight shootings in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend. The investigations are proving difficult because victims and witnesses aren’t cooperating, police Chief Warren Gall said.

There has been an outcry from Grand Strand residents and officials, including a call from Gov. Nikki Haley for the Atlantic Beach Bikefest to end. The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce also proposed forgoing accommodations tax money and redirecting it to be used to pay to bring additional law enforcement to the area in May.

A shooting at Bermuda Sands Resort on May 24 left three people dead and one injured. Police said the people involved in the shooting, from the Summerville area, have gang ties.

But church leaders on Sunday said they are more concerned with the violence seen committed by young people in their neighborhoods on a daily basis. The community meeting to discuss crime had been scheduled for more than a month, Johnson said.

Churches that were invited included Sandy Grove, Mt. Olive AME Church in Myrtle Beach, Chesterfield Missionary Baptist Church in Longs, Shield's Chapel Fire Baptized Holiness Church in Myrtle Beach, and Life Outreach Church in Myrtle Beach, as well as others.

Master Cpl. Shannon Toole told a room of about 75 people that there are not enough things for young people to do to keep them out of trouble.

“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” Toole said. “If they have nothing to do, they’re going to find trouble.”

Toole said local gangs tend to align themselves based on where they’ve grown up and fight over turf, girls and drugs.

“There’s a hatred among them because of where they’re from,” he said, referring to tensions between known gangs in Myrtle Beach and those in the Longs area. “It’s because they don’t have a sense of community.”

Many residents cited systemic issues, such as poor education and the cradle to prison pipeline, that add to the crime seen in the community.

“Our problem is complex, so there is no one answer,” said the Rev. Dexter Mitchell of Sandy Grove. “It didn’t happen overnight and we’re not going to solve it overnight.”

Those in attendance said they hope to get young people on the right track.

“We need to have a meeting with other area churches and have young people come in and talk to them,” said Shiela Favorite, a Myrtle Beach resident. “Let’s hear what they have to say.”

Johnson collected information from those in attendance who agreed to be “foot soldiers” and go out into the community to talk to young people.

“Let’s make this thing happen,” he said. “I’m not going to come to a second meeting and talk about the same thing. ... We’re going to come together at a certain time, strategically, and go out where these young kids are.”

No matter how the “foot soldiers” approach those committing crimes in their neighborhoods, Betty Lance of Myrtle Beach said God needs to be at the center of it.

“We’ve got to put God back in its rightful place,” she said. “If we do everything the way God says, we won’t have these problems.”