ARTICLE & PHOTO BY: DAMIAN DOMINGUEZ
“It breaks my heart to have to convene this.”
Greenwood Mayor Brandon Smith was appalled at what seemed like indiscriminate violence when Keyiona Hill was shot and killed July 8. Police said she had been a patron at Uptown Bar and Grill when a man shot the business from outside, a bullet striking her.
When 27-year-old Christopher Longshore was arrested and charged in connection with Hill’s slaying, the public learned he had been out on bond awaiting trial on four attempted murder charges from a 2017 shooting. Smith reached out to city, county and state government officials to organize a meeting to discuss the causes of violent crime, and potential solutions.
On Tuesday, state Sen. Billy Garrett and Rep. Anne Parks joined members of city and county council, government employees, the police chief, sheriff and circuit solicitor for the first such meeting.
“I understand we’re not going to solve all the world’s problems today,” Smith said. “It’s a first step, and I know it’s one we’ve taken before, but one I hope will spark a dialogue.”
Law enforcement officials discussed some of the challenges they face investigating and building cases, and 8th Circuit Solicitor David Stumbo talked about some of the difficulties his attorneys face. The group discussed funding for law enforcement and policing strategies, along with exploring ways to hire more officers.
But City Councilwoman Niki Hutto said maybe what Greenwood needs is more psychologists than officers. Social work can intervene in people’s lives — especially people facing poverty — and keep them from turning to crime or neighborhood gangs for support, she said.
“Is it because they don’t have support at home? Is it because their parents are teens themselves,” she asked. “I don’t think all the police in the world are going to help.”
Greenwood County School District 50 board member and unopposed Democratic candidate for Greenwood County Council District 3 seat Johanna Bishop said agencies need to use their resources in creative ways to build community pride and participation. It takes neighbors taking ownership of their community, she said.
“Yes, a lot of us don’t have what we need at home — but that doesn’t matter,” she said. “We have to take ownership where we are. We have to take pride.”
Smith said funding for local government has changed dramatically in recent years. The Local Options Sales Tax the city proposed failed to pass on the November 2020 ballot, and Smith asked Parks and Garrett what resources they might be able to marshal at the state legislative level. Parks said she didn’t know of any resources available to help fund public safety, besides specific requests lawmakers could earmark in the state budget.
State Rep. John McCravy couldn’t attend the meeting, but in a letter to city officials he suggested spending all or most of the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds Greenwood received on public safety. The city has spent $2.4 million of those funds on creating six new police positions the department has struggled to fill, along with buying additional cameras and stun guns. About 80% of the city’s ARPA funds spent so far have gone to public safety in one form or another, said city Councilman Johnathan Bass.
Garrett echoed Parks, saying he’d need a specific request to earmark state funds. He said he could look into state funding for a gang interdiction task force.
“We stand ready, willing and able to help,” he said.
Smith sparked discussion by asking others in the meeting how it was possible Longshore was still out of jail when since his bond was set on the 2017 attempted murder charges, he had been charged with additional crimes in multiple separate instances. Despite a condition of his earlier bond being that he not enter Greenwood County except to see his lawyer or attend court, he had since been charged multiple times in Greenwood County.
Longshore was even arrested a month before the shooting at Uptown Bar and Grill, and charged with unlawful carrying of a pistol.
Though Garrett said justice delayed is justice denied, he bristled at some of Smith’s questions. When Smith asked about Longshore’s attorney, state Sen. Karl Allen’s use of legislative privilege, Garrett said that’s not the culprit and defended the importance of this privilege that allows legislator lawyers to delay trials when they are working in the State House.
Garrett said he’d like to see legislation that denies people bond if they have a previous violent offense and are accused of using a gun in another violent crime. He said judges setting bonds should at least have a defendant’s criminal history in front of them, something Stumbo echoed.
He also called for bail and bond reform — addressing how bail is set, and regulating the low rates for-profit bail bonding businesses are able to offer people to post their bond. In his letter, McCravy made clear that repeat violent offenders should not be released on bond. He pledged to stay open to suggestions, and do what he can to author and support tougher bond laws.
Four years ago, Smith was attending community meetings much like Tuesday’s gathering. They were organized by County Councilwoman Edith Childs in response to a string of slayings in Greenwood that ended several young lives.
Now, leading meetings of his own to discuss many of the same problems, Smith said he hopes to get more people involved in the conversation. He said the representatives invited to Tuesday’s meeting likely don’t have a good grasp of what young people face daily, and said he wants to have residents, the nonprofit community, clergy and community champions involved in these talks.
“It’s not something that should be looked at as a knee-jerk reaction, but something crucial to spend our time on,” he said. “These aren’t unique problems we have. We can gather suggestions, then hopefully turn that into action. We’ve got to do something.”
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