DOBBINS HEIGHTS — Violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The pain reverberates throughout a community: one family is left to grieve while the another loses a loved one to the criminal justice system.
According to Varneice Morrison, it’s the mothers who most of all feel the brunt of violence.
This was her message at the second annual Stop the Violence march in Dobbins Heights on Saturday. Before an audience of neighbors, community leaders and clergy, she screamed her own story of loss with tears streaming down her face. She’s lost her father, her uncle, two cousins and a nephew to gun violence.
“We’re losing too many,” Morrison said. “This here that I’m doing is trying to say that we’ve got to stop this … the mothers bear the pain because that’s their child.”
The march began at the Circle B gas station just outside Dobbins Heights and finished at the Community Center with speakers, gospel music and food. The Circle B is the site where, about three days after the first Stop the Violence march last year, 20-year-old Tierrell Martin was shot dead while chatting with friends in what authorities believe to be a gang-related shooting,
The investigation into Martin’s death remains open, a fact that has frustrated the Hamlet Police Department for nearly a year.
“It’s been on my mind ever since,” Hamlet Police Chief Scott Waters told the crowd of about two dozen, noting the exact date and time: June 28, 2017 at 12:22 a.m. “I’ve got to be here today because I believe Martin’s and the other deaths need to stop.”
Waters recalled the details of the scene: shell casings found on the gravel area behind the Circle B; the shooter stayed focused on Martin even though many others were in the area, which suggested it wasn’t a random shooting; and the silence from the onlookers — and likely witnesses — about who committed the act.
(Morrison said there were more people standing around Martin’s body on that day than were marching Saturday against the violence.)
“Nobody talked — that bothered me,” Waters said. “If somebody’s doing something that violent (the community) has got to step up.”
In his speech to the modest crowd, Waters addressed the tensions between the police and the black community following several years of high-profile cases in which officers were seen to have at least used poor judgement and at worst been racially prejudiced.
“I can assure you under my watch it won’t be that way,” he said, but acknowledged that there may be some “bad apples.” “If we find that an officer has (acted incorrectly) he will no longer carry that badge.”
Martin’s mother, Delia Martin of Dobbins Heights, said there were no “bad memories” for her as the anniversary of her son’s death neared. She said her son wasn’t perfect — he was convicted on 12 felonies dating back to June 2014, according to state records — but he wasn’t just a gang member: “He was a son and grandson … he played the drums in church.”
“We need to get the kids’ attention that violence is not the key,” Martin said. “They need an outlet, something for them to do here.”
Martin added that she wants people to be “excited about life like (Tierrell) was” and to encourage kids to avoid getting involved in street gangs.
“My door is always open” to youth who are dealing with these issues, Martin said.
Mayor Antonio Blue marched with the procession, and later sang Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” with supporting vocals from council member Angeline David and other community members. In his speech, Blue spoke of his own experience with the effects of violence: his nephew was murdered in Hamlet on Feb. 18, 2003.
“At some point we’ve got to come together to stop this,” Blue said, remembering the days when people could “fight and go home.” “We’re losing too many young people and it doesn’t have to be that way.”
If anyone has any information about Martin’s death, or other criminal activity, you can call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 910-997-5454. You can also call the Hamlet Police Department’s main line at 910-582-2551 or send a private message on Facebook.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or at [email protected]