By Jimmy Isaac
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded 103 years ago, in part, to protect black Americans from violence from other races. In 2012, the Longview NAACP Chapter President Branden Johnson and other local leaders seek to slow violence against African-Americans committed by African-Americans.
“People, we are tired of burying our young,” Johnson said in a prepared statement released Monday. “It’s time to stop these seemingly early funerals. The summer has yet to begin and, already, murders and robberies have taken place within a few short months.”
Johnson, flanked by local clergy, municipal and nonprofit leaders, held Monday’s press conference at Longview Public Library to decry recent violence, including the May 15 fatal shooting of DeAundray Rossum. Rossum, 20, of Kilgore, was found shot to death during an apparent robbery on Signal Hill Drive in South Longview, according to police. A Kilgore High School classmate of Rossum’s, 22-year-old Brendan Xavier Douglas was arrested May 18 in connection to the homicide and is being held in the Gregg County Jail on $253,000 bond.
Longview police believe the shooting, in which two other men were wounded, was the result of a failed drug deal that escalated into a robbery, according to a search warrant.
“Regardless of the circumstances,” Johnson said Monday, “he (Rossum) was human like you and I.”
Longview NAACP, the Longview Interdenominational Alliance and the Longview Clergy Coalition are planning prayer walks and other events later this summer to raise awareness against rising local violence. City of Longview-backed prayer walks became annual events in 2006 through 2009 due to violence at that time.
“We plan to hold combined events throughout the city of Longview to prevent crime, increase love, and build relationships with all Longview residents. Your assistance is fully welcomed,” Johnson said.
“First of all, there has to be awareness, and all the groups need to come together,” Longview Interdenominational Alliance chairman Tim Watson said Monday. “We have to have awareness that there is a problem in our community not just isolated to one section of our city. We have to raise the awareness that all of us must be involved. Unfortunately, when we have these tragedies, it raises the awareness. However, we are trying to be proactive and work together for the benefit of the community.”
Father Gavin N. Vaverek of St Mary’s Catholic Church couldn’t agree more.
“It will take good people working together to create the awareness and positive opportunities for young people,” he said. “We must cooperate with the police so it does not reach to the point of someone being killed.”
Longview witnessed 30 homicides and 538 robberies between 2008 and 2010, marking the highest total among both crimes in a three-year period for the city since 1999.
In 2011, the city witnessed four homicides – the lowest total in at least 13 years. All four victims were black men, and while no arrests have been made in two of the homicides, police have arrested two black men in connection with two separate killings and identified a black woman in the December fatal stabbing of Ray Jacobs, though no arrest has been made in that crime.
“Today, I feel angry. I am upset that the good die young mostly over nonsense. I am outraged that some perpetrators remain at large, protected by individuals in the community that will not fully cooperate with the police,” Johnson said Monday. “It’s no secret, yet a known fact the penitentiaries are packed, and it’s filled with blacks. Why must we kill each other? It takes skill to be real and begin to heal each other.”
Johnson and other leaders implored residents with crime tips to come forward and bring responsible people to justice. Police Chief Don Dingler added that all residents must remain vigilant against crime, which can happen in all parts of the city.
“We urge anyone that is a victim of crime to report it,” Longview Police Chief Don Dingler said. “It help us to help them and the community at large. We can’t solve crimes without citizen assistance. Some of the best ways to help us is to be involved in crime prevention such as neighborhood crime watch and those types of things. I think if you are a victim of crime or you see a crime report it. If you are alone in the building leave the door locked. Crime happens everywhere.”
District 3 (Southeast) City Councilwoman Kasha Williams noted that not all children are the same. Most young people are law-abiding residents, and people should refrain from labeling a section of town,” she said.
“People do not realize that there are places for young people to go to,” Williams said. “We can look at what to do to put children in these programs and avoid tragedies such as this.”
As Longview Community Services Coordinator Dietrich Johnson (no relation to Branden Johnson) noted, however, maintaining the funds to keep open those positive places for young people becomes more difficult with time.
“Prevention is the key,” Dietrich Johnson said, “but prevention is always under the budget hatchet.”
Longview NAACP is asking that anyone who wants to find a way to help the effort can join the NAACP or any of the local agencies involved in quelling local violence. To learn more, call the Greater Longview United Way Infoline at (903) 236-9211.
“There are small things we can do to create a bridge to safety for young people like DeAundray,” Branden Johnson said. “We realize positive and constructive community activities for the 18 to 26 year old population is lacking in the area. However, Longview does offer assistance in the enhancement of our youth. There are museums, libraries, civic organizations, church activities, and parks to frequent. Parents that do not have the tools to parent, have access to parenting groups. Children with emotional disturbances have access to mental health care. There are even conferences planned to discuss youth potential, assets, and safety. There are opportunities for the average young person to get involved. Let’s stop meeting, to start doing.”