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Friday, 11 July 2014 00:00

Special report: Anger, frustration, then action following summer shootings in Beloit

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Neighborhood kids play on the swings last week at Summit Park on Beloit’s east side, the scene of a shooting in late June. Leaders say the key to stemming the violence is community involvement. Neighborhood kids play on the swings last week at Summit Park on Beloit’s east side, the scene of a shooting in late June. Leaders say the key to stemming the violence is community involvement. Dan Plutchak/staff

STATELINE NEWS -- A shooting in Summit Park on the evening of June 27 is the most recent incident in a rash of shootings in Beloit that has community members concerned.

Gretchen Thurman has lived in the neighborhood surrounding Summit Park for 10 years. In that time, she says it seems to her like there’s been an increase in violence. A passer-by wouldn’t know it traveling by the park on most days.

In fact, most of the time you can find neighborhood kids playing on the swings and city workers tending the grass. But in the recent incident, a 25-year-old Janesville man was injured by gunfire.

No arrests have been made, and witnesses and the victim haven’t cooperated with the investigation, police said.

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There are a lot of things that contribute to the violence, Thurman says, but much of it is gang related.

"They’ve known each other all of their lives, and they can’t decide which side they’re on," Thurman said.

That’s why she says it’s important to get to kids while they’re young.

"They shouldn’t have to come to the park and have to deal with shootings," she said. "The main thing is to have things for kids to do to keep them active."

This most recent shooting comes on the heels of an unusually large amount of gun-related violence in Beloit over the past few months.

On April 25, 36-year-old Edward Damont Haley was discovered shot dead lying in the 2100 block of Newark Road in the town of Beloit. On the same day, in an unrelated incident, 20-year-old Raymond Holloway was shot to death at Highland and Eighth streets.

On May 18, in an assumed act of retribution for the shooting of Holloway, Sonia Marshall’s home on the 400 block of Merrill Street was shot at and struck several times. Later that evening shots were reported again near Highland Avenue and Eighth Street where Halloway had been shot.

On May 20, several gunshots were reported in the evening at Krueger Park in Beloit, not too far from the softball field where Beloit Memorial High School was playing against Sun Prairie High School.

Shortly after that on May 22, 25-year-old Jeffrey Hardnett was killed in what appeared to be a shoot-out between him and another man in the 1400 block of Hull Avenue.

The string of violent crime has come as a surprise to many, including Beloit Police Chief Norm Jacobs.

"I was very surprised about the two unconnected homicides that occurred in the same day," said Jacobs. "This is more homicide in a short span of time than our community has seen in quite awhile."

According to the Beloit Police Department’s uniform crime report, there were two murders and non-negligent homicides in Beloit in 2013 and only one in 2012. With three murders in the last few months alone, community organizations are crying out for intervention.

Among them is Community Action Inc. The organization’s director of planning and development, Marc Perry, helped organize a town meeting May 23 to start a dialog about the outbreak of violence and discuss possible strategies to deal with it.

"The unfortunate thing about the town hall meeting was that it came in response to something incredibly negative," Perry said. "We were hoping though that we could start engaging, connecting and speaking with each other in a positive way to help find solutions."

Perry said that the meeting attracted 50 or so residents and was successful in getting everyone’s concerns out on the table.

"Residents, members of the clergy and people from human service organizations all showed up to the meeting wanting to do whatever they could to help," said Perry "At first you saw some anger, some frustration and you saw a lot of sadness, but what we are seeing now is that everyone wants to do something, everyone is about the action."

Since the initial meeting, Perry has seen the effort blossom into regular town hall meetings that have met four more times, the most recent being on June 27. Perry says that the meetings usually attract 25 to 30 residents and that they are branching off and starting to make concrete action plans that they hope will make a difference in the community.

"We’ve been meeting on Friday evenings with groups," Perry said. "We’ve kind of splintered into two main groups, one that’s working on community engagement and events, and the other is working on sort of the social justice end. We are looking at setting some community events up for July 26 and Aug. 13 and talking about doing some focus street outreach. We are also looking into adopting the CeaseFire program, which started in Chicago several years ago."

While many residents may feel that intervention in Beloit’s violence is a job that should be left exclusively to the police department, Perry said that an effort on the part of the community to pull together and combat the issues together could have a positive influence.

Jacobs is also in that school of thought. 

"I think that town meetings do have an important impact on the situation," said Jacobs. "They help the community recover from these incidents that occur, because the whole community is affected by violent crime. Having these meetings, it gives people a chance to get together and talk about it and start the healing process."

Other possible action a concerned resident could take would be linking up with their closest neighborhood watch program.

"In Beloit there are at least 30 neighborhood watch programs and we start more on a regular basis," Jacobs said. "Neighborhood watches are very useful to the police department. They help stabilize a neighborhood by allowing the people to get to know each other a bit and make it easier to help prevent certain types of crime."

Religious groups and community organizations have begun to rally against the unfortunate string of crimes throughout the city, and if you ask Perry, he’d tell you that the actual crime fighting is only half the battle -- the real change comes from pulling the community together and supporting a stronger society.

Perry said that mentoring programs for youths, employment programs and continuing education programs are some of the keys to de-escalating the crime situation and making a long-term positive impact. And if you think you don’t have anything to add to the effort, Perry would disagree.

"Everybody has a role," Perry said. "The police department absolutely has theirs, organizations have theirs. But even as private citizens, we all can get involved, we all have a talent or skill, we all have something to contribute. There are a lot of things people can do to make a difference."

-- Dan Plutchak contributed to this report.

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