Community must work to reduce violent crime

info@islandpacket.comOctober 8, 2013 

More than a year after 8-year-old Khalil Singleton was gunned down while playing in his grandmother's yard on Hilton Head Island, the community should not let go of the outrage his death engendered.

It is as important today as it was last year to harness that outrage and use it to find ways to reduce violence on Hilton Head and throughout Beaufort County.

Community organizers who sought to do that, starting in the first weeks after Khalil's death, say they haven't give up on their goal. The Hilton Head Island Community Action Committee has worked to get more children involved in the Hilton Head Island Boys & Girls Club and Island Recreation Association programs. Town Councilman Marc Grant has worked with local churches to provide transportation to and from after-school programs and to find homework help for children who are unsupervised after school because their parents are working.

Those are good long-term approaches to setting youth on a path toward productive lives and away from violence.

But violence today must be addressed, too. The Rev. Ben Williams of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church says that more people are cooperating with law enforcement officers and calling to report suspicious behavior.

That is very good news, and we hope it is replicated across the county. Certainly, it hasn't always been the case.

Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone and Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner had to resort to extraordinary measures to get people to tell what they knew about a June 2012 shooting on St. Helena Island that left two men dead and two men wounded.

Frustrated by witnesses who refused to talk, they used the state's "mob statute" to subpoena witnesses to give sworn testimony. The law allows subpoenas to be issued before an indictment if a case involves a violent act by a "mob," defined as two or more co-conspirators intent upon hurting a person or group of people. Witnesses who refused to cooperate could be held in contempt of court.

The result: 61 people testifying before a grand jury and murder charges against two men.

Unfortunately, Stone said in July that he would suspend using the law, citing the constraints of his budget. He received just over $1 million instead of the $1.4 million he had asked from Beaufort County. He also lost about $466,000 in federal funding when grants expired. The mob law investigation was led internally by a senior attorney who has taken a job in private practice.

We hope Stone won't hesitate to use it again should the need arise. Compelling testimony can be the only way to get some people to talk.

For his part, Tanner says he plans to ask for money in 2014 to create a five-person, special enforcement unit that would police special events and patrol high-crime areas. He cited a cost of $737,000 when he brought the idea to Hilton Head's Town Council in June, late in the budget season. Council said then that it needed more time to consider the idea.

The sheriff said the unit could launch with three members. And that might be the place to start. It probably is time to add staff, given the island's population growth.

But three -- or even five -- deputies can't be everywhere, and they can't see everything. Community members must be willing to speak up when they see or know something about a crime, particularly a violent crime. We must overcome fear, mistrust and misplaced loyalties when it comes to reporting crime and helping to solve it.

Don't waste the anger brought on by Khalil Singleton's death. Use it to turn a very negative event into something positive.

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