Several local men and women have formed a coalition that will seek to identify and address the root causes of recent violence the city has seen among teenagers.
The group held its first meeting last Thursday, said member Willie McGhee, a Ward 3 representative on the El Dorado City Council. Their second meeting is set for this afternoon at St. James Village Outreach facility.
"We're not focusing on just one thing. We're trying to pull a number of people together who actually want to get busy, who want to work together," McGhee said on Wednesday.
The group's formation comes after a spate of recent violence, including one incident in which a teenager was shot and killed, allegedly at the hands of another teenager.
On April 22, 16-year-old Brandon Mack was shot and killed in his back yard; the following day, 19-year-old Camron Washington was charged with capital murder in the case.
Police also responded to shootings on April 23 and 24. In one incident, officers found houses and vehicles that had been struck by bullets in the 800 block of East Fourth Street. In the other, Deshawn Watson, 19, suffered a gunshot wound to his leg during a shooting at his residence on South Martin Luther King Boulevard.
Since then, several other incidences of violence or threats of violence have roiled the community. The weekend after Brandon was killed, a social media post warning of "a credible threat of two gangs ... 'painting the town red' with gun violence." Several downtown businesses were closed April 29. Sheriff Ricky Roberts said at the time the rumors were not confirmed.
The city's second murder of the year was reported on May 2, when Thomas Lockett, 63, was killed. A Union County Sheriff's Deputy shot and killed suspect Lance Lockett, the homicide victim's nephew, during the police response to the incident; the deputy has since been placed on administrative leave. Details about the homicide and officer-involved shooting remain unclear.
Members of the new coalition established the purpose and mission of the group during their first meeting, McGhee said, namely to identify the causes of teen violence – specifically by giving teenagers and other youth a platform to tell adults the challenges they face --, increase accessibility and knowledge of youth-oriented organizations in the community and, ultimately, to decrease violence in the community.
Former El Dorado mayor Veronica Smith-Creer, another member of the new group, said today's meeting will focus on pinpointing youth-serving organizations that could potentially play a role in preventing teen violence.
"A lot of our kids don't have the opportunities, don't have the options... so they're surrounded by negativity," she said.
Noting how much the world has changed in recent decades, McGhee said it's more important than ever to listen to young adults when they share their concerns and talk about the struggles they face.
"They're doing active shooting drills in schools. You've got people telling their 6-year-olds to play dead," he said, referring to active shooting drills in schools. "Things aren't the same today as they were when I was a kid."
Smith-Creer also highlighted the role adults must play in preventing youth violence, and providing positive intervention in the lives of at-risk youth.
"Our young people didn't come out of thin air," she said. "Grown-ups are in a position to take responsibility for what they do or didn't do... There's a lot of responsibility for adults and we're going to need the whole village."
McGhee previously founded Stop the Violence, another community group aimed at preventing violence in El Dorado, in 2009. Smith-Creer said the new group, while sharing a primary mission with Stop the Violence, will be more action-based. Membership in the coalition will soon be open to the public, she said.
"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel," she said. "We just want to make it more accessible to young people."
McGhee said the group will start youth outreach at local schools, churches and through youth-serving organizations like the Boys and Girls Club.
"Any time you've got a group of children together, that's an opportunity," he said.
Eventually, the coalition hopes to be able to offer mentorship opportunities and prevention summits for local youth, Smith-Creer said.
"Everyone who came to the table has a concern for children," she said. "We want to make mentorship, summits available and find solutions together."
The group will establish a social media presence in the coming weeks. In the meantime, those interested in learning more about the coalition can contact Smith-Creer through her Mayor Sunshine page on Facebook, or McGhee at 870-314-1441.