SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - In Savannah, we know all too well about almost nightly shootings and a violent crime problem that is becoming harder and harder to control.
And of course, arresting the problem will take more than matching fire-power or flooding the streets with cops. It may take the kind of community involvement we saw Monday night, led by a young man, an import to our community, who seems to know exactly where it hurts.
As Savannah heads for another record breaking year, for all the worst reasons, there are certainly those making every attempt, throw every resource, recruit every soldier to fight what has becoming an increasingly violent war. However, many are convinced the hundreds of voices that are backed by uniforms, voters and tax dollars are proving less than effective alone.
Here is why. All the cops SCMPD Chief Jack Lumpkin can hire, all the cruisers he can put on the streets, all the threats of federal prosecution cannot reach as deep into the emotional fabric of our community as perhaps, a single voice. A voice like Semaj Clarks. In fact, the choices made by the next generation of Savannah's youth will be influenced more by offering a little perspective than forcing punishment.
Semaj Clark, a young man paralyzed by a thug's bullet while visiting Savannah could become its mightiest voce against our growing violent crime problem.
"The reason why I stayed here, this is a quote that I love by Martin Luther King and it says, 'the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.' I stayed here in Savannah because I care about what's going on. And I didn't want to run from the problem. I wanted to run to it," said Anti- Crime Activist Semaj Clark.
Among others, Monday night's effort drew a group of federal ex-cons from a local half-way house to share their best advice against the worst of choices with a combined 100-years in federal prison to back it up.
But the real targets of this gathering are still naïve to the worst Savannah's streets can deliver. Still, Antoinette Ellis will take any wisdom she and her two kids can absorb.
"I do have to send them out. They go, they have cell phones and they're out there in the world for a certain amount of time without me. So they need to know what's out there, how to approach certain situations, how to approach certain situations, how to get out of certain situations and perhaps the consequences. Right, right. So, they need to know ahead of time," said Ellis.
And the words of those who spoke Monday, their war stories from the streets, their choices that shattered a dangerous mold, were not lost on the innocence tuning in.
"Do you need this? Yep. How come? Because it's like, like she said, we go out with other people, with our friends a lot. I mean we have phones and everything but still, we need to know what's out there and what we need to be looking out for when we're hanging out with our friends before we get into something and get into trouble," said Davita Cossey.
"The big deal is they're trying to get out the message that we've been through this stuff, we know what it's like. You do not want to feel the pain that we have felt," said Daryl Cossey.
Truth is, Clark though just one voice, has built an army that just might fill a critical hole in Savannah's defense against the violence.
Those who were there Monday night, insist what's needed right now is more parental communication, more youth programs like the Police Athletic League and resources from a city many say has neglected the problem for years.