In response to the spike in gun violence in the Tuscaloosa area, Doris Lucas decided to host a Stop the Gun Violence Rally last Sunday at Palmore Park. Many different leaders and citizens of the community spoke about what they think can be done to end this troubling trend.

Lucas said that she decided to hold the rally after having a conversation with her three sons.

"I just wanted us to do this because our kids needed it," said Lucas. "Too many young children out here dying."

After leading the opening prayer, Sandrell Denise spoke about being a parent and what can be done in the home to prevent things like this.

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"It starts in the home; it's in the word that we train our children up in the Lord it's time for us to do our job," said Denise. "We can't be scared of these children; we can't allow Satan to attack your mind. So we can go up in these rooms and ask what you're doing, who are you talking to, where you're going, if we take back the authority and power, and then, we'll be able to go into the community and do what's necessary."

Denise also talked about a recent experience she had in a local McDonalds where a fight almost happened.

"You got about six teenage boys waiting, trying to fight another guy that works in there," said Denise. "You got people that work there they are not saying nothing, and then they're egging it on. And me, I'm going always step up because I know God put me in these places, and I'm telling them I said What are you guys doing? I said, y'all know what's going on around us somebody just died the other night, and yall up here trying to fight, I said, you don't know this young man might be in the back with a gun scared because yall are out here trying to fight him. And I begin to talk to them. And I wasn't yelling at them. I went to them in love. I said we don't need nobody else being killed. So yall, do what's right and go home. And they said yes, ma'am."

Denise also suggested that instead of "pointing a finger and telling them you do this or that," adults need to lead by example.

"So we as grown-ups, as parents, as mothers and fathers, we got to do our job because we can't expect change if we on social media acting a fool talking crazy smoking, doing whatever and clapping when our kids do the same thing," said Denise. "They're mimicking what they see."

Vince Cleveland, a deputy with the Tuscaloosa County Sheriffs Department, spoke next about what he has experienced during his eight years in law enforcement.

"It's hard for a child to obey a police officer when the child doesn't obey their parents," said Cleveland. "It's hard for the child to know right from wrong when it isn't being taught. It's hard for a child to follow in the right direction when there's no direction shown to that child."

Cleveland also spoke about the communities role in parenting children.

"Not only does it start at home, but it also takes a village to raise our children," said Cleveland. "Those out there are our children; it's our job as a community to help one another with raising our children. There used to be a time when everyone raises the children in the community nowadays; you can't say anything to nobody's child."

Cleveland said that when he was a child, his mother didn't allow him to be disrespectful to any adult and that parents shouldn't stop other parents from correcting their child.

Cleveland also said that parents need to motivate their children to go to work instead of laying around at home.

Lucas said that parents also need to proactive and when they see photos online of a teenager holding a gun or a large amount of money, reach out and ask questions.

The next speaker was Cassius Lanier, who is currently running in the special election to represent Tuscaloosa's District 7 on the city council.

Lanier started by saying that while he knew what needed to be said to the "shooters," they were not at the event, but he did speak to the young men and parents present about their role in the violence.

Like many other speakers, Lanier told parents to "lead by example." He also spoke about the men committing these violent crimes.

"It takes one second because when you pull that trigger, that bullet won't come back," said Lanier.

Lanier also gave advice to the young men present at the rally.

"Listen, don't get in that car. If it feels like something funny like your friends are up to something, don't get in that car. If you in it, get out of that car, pull over, tell them you got diarrhea you about to use the bathroom in their new car," Lanier said. "You need to get out of that car protect yourself, and that's not a coward. The coward is the one who's gonna go pull that trigger and take an innocent life."

Lanier also said that another problem in the community is the idea of a "no snitch code." So instead, he promoted the idea that if you see something, say something.

"You can't be afraid to pull up on them when I see them guys with guns, on Facebook, and that's what I do. I jump in their inbox. I ain't scared of them," said Lanier. "That's what we got to do. We got to get in their business. So since they're not here, I gave yall clear instructions. You got a homework assignment. Get in their business, fix your beef so you can tell them something, and then we gather again. This is a rally, but a rally is simply a call for action. This the pep rally. Now it's game time. Let's get to work."


The next speaker was Erin Grant, who spoke about the mindset of children and suggested implementing programs that let kids experience jail.

"I don't wanna go to jail," said Grant. "How can we take [these children] down there to the county jail and let them see how dirty and nasty it is. I was in Leadership Tuscaloosa, and we went through there. I was walking on my tip toes because it was disgusting down there. So it's a mental thing if you not scared to go to the county jail something is wrong."

Northport city councilman Woodrow Washington, who also owns and operates the famous Archibald and Woodrow's BBQ, spoke about his time as a member of the Tuscaloosa Fire Department.

"As a firefighter, I had to make real quick decisions," said Washington. "It was life or death; when I was a firefighter, I didn't care; I just ran inside a burning building and put the fire out. I did that for a long time. As a fire sergeant, I had to make good decisions when I was driving because now I got four or five folks in the truck with me, and if I hadn't made a good decision in driving, we would have an accident in the fire truck. And probably kill ourselves and whoever we hit. As an officer, I had to make life-saving decisions: hey, do you go inside this building? Hey, do you stay outside? How long do you go in before the building collapses? You know you got to make them real quick, sound decisions. As teenagers and young adults and as kids, you have to make clean sound decisions because you gonna find yourself jammed up real quick."

Washington said that when you get a feeling that something isn't right, get out of that situation. He also said that some decisions aren't worth what they will cost you.

"Everybody knows that if five people are ready to fight you, you're not going to win," said Washington. "That doesn't mean go get a gun and shoot all five of them. Walk away live to fight another day. I'm telling you it's not worth it. The day you make that bad decision, that's something you got to deal with and live with the rest of your life."

Members of the community also asked their own questions at the event. Lashonda Simmons asked Washington about identifying and treating mental health issues.

"A lot of us don't understand we're suffering from mental illness because you don't know about mental illness because it was so glued to our culture," said Simmons. "So when you got your friends dying all around you, you become paranoid. So you're gonna carry guns and stuff with you because you're paranoid. But if we can put that mental health help out there, that's needed for our community. I think it can tweak a little change because you ain't gonna be that scared."

Tuscaloosa District one city councilman Matthew Wilson spoke about members of the community coming together.

"So you got to have a group of people that go to the church, a group of people that just go to the street, and a group of people that can go to the school," said Wilson. "All of these three work together to build one child."

Wilson also echoed other speakers, saying it takes a village to raise our children.

"I came from a dysfunctional home, but the village said no, you not going to the street," said Wilson. "You're gonna make it."

The last speaker at the event was Deandre Foi, a former inmate at Draper Correctional Facility, who spoke about the statistics on fatherless homes.

"We don't want to go to the root of the problem and dig it up and expose it to life because when we go to the root of the problem, we gonna find ourselves," said Foi. "Not them, not the children, not the youth, not the shooter, we will find ourselves."

Foi read statistics that said, "72% of adolescents serving sentences for murder are from fatherless homes; 85% of children which exhibit some type of behavior disorder come from fatherless homes. Seven out of 10 youth that are housed in detention and residential facilities come from fatherless homes; children or youth that come from fatherless homes are 279% more likely to deal drugs and carry firearms compared to children with their father; 75% of youth patients being treated in substance abuse centers come from fatherless homes."

Foi also said that "emotionally absent fathers have almost identical results as absent ones." He said that to prevent history from repeating itself, we need to tell our children about the mistakes we made as kids.

"We don't talk to our children about the things that we did and the things that got us in our situation and our circumstances," said Foi. "We don't talk to them about that drug life and the shooting and my homeboy that left. We got to talk to them about the things that we did wrong. Show them the result of it because if we don't tell them, guess where they're gonna get it from? The street."

Foi said that fatherless homes are the root of the violence taking place in our community and that we should have programs to teach young men what it means to be a man and a father.

"If we want to stop the killing then we've got to produce some men and some fathers," Foi said.

At the end of the rally, the community released balloons in honor of those who have been lost in the community.

Members of the Tuscaloosa Police Department were also in attendance at the event. Officer Javine and Lt. Rester came to support the message and affirm that TPD supports any initiatives taken by the community to stop gun violence.

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