Six of Grand Rapids Community College’s Criminal Justice Department adjunct faculty members sat on a panel last night to lead a community discussion about elements of gun violence prevention as part of the third and final night of the Stewart Edward White Hall Symposium. Being adjunct facility, they have years of involvement in the local criminal justice system, the community itself and with the problems facing it.
Lynnell Talbert – Kent County Juvenile Probation Officer
Steve Brunink – Kent County Defender’s Office
Clifford Washington – Director of Prisoner Reentry Programs at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services
Nikilia Edwards – Corrections Officer
Jan Willis – Court Administrator of the 61st District Court
John Wittkowski – Grand Rapids Police Department
The panel members all called attention to the shootings that happen everyday. According to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was an average of 30 firearm homicides each day in 2010. These numbers are beginning to trend downward but are among the highest in the world.
“It seems to be that until it’s a mass shooting, it’s okay,” Brunink said. He was troubled by the lack of attention paid to the violence happening each day in the community.
“We solve our problems too easily with violence,” Wittkowski said. An officer with the Grand Rapids Police Department for more than 18 years, he thinks frustrated young people turn to violence for quick solutions to their problems. He urged focus on the communities most affected by single victim shootings.
Edwards pointed out how problem solving skills often were not being taught to children because their parents were too often absent.
“A huge problem is with the lack of role-models in the community,” Edwards said.
“You don’t have to be a professional or in the field to help,” Washington said. He urged people to spend time each week mentoring someone at risk.
Bryan Blakely, executive director of Bates Place Ministries and commission pastor of First Christian Reformed Church, was part of the audience and spoke during the discussion.
“If we take ownership in our communities, a lot of these things wouldn’t happen,” Blakely said.
Several of GRCC’s Criminal Justice classes attended the talks, including recruits of GRCC’s Police Academy. One Million Mom’s for Gun Control was also represented. Many of the panelists and attendees clearly expressed the need for community involvement, recommending mentoring troubled teens or participating in neighborhood watch programs.