The shootings must stop and they must stop now!

In recent months, the alarming numbers of shootings in the city of Philadelphia have garnered a lot of attention from the community and the media. Many residents are concerned that there is a crime problem in our city.

As a resident of this city and a frequent traveler in all parts of this city, we do not have a crime problem - yet! City residents are not hiding in their homes afraid to go out, armed gangs are not controlling our streets, drugs dealers are not on every corner selling their products and there is no section of this city that is unsafe to visit. Philadelphia is still one of the safest cities in Mississippi.

Criminal activities can be found in all cities. How a city chooses to deal with the criminal activities plays a major role in whether a city will tip over to having a crime problem or not. Our city is at a tipping point. We can choose either to address the causes of the spike in crime in our city or we can just ignore them because many of the shootings have occurred in the Western section of the city. Criminal activity committed in one section of the city will eventually spread to other parts if unchecked.

Residents and concerned citizens recently held a march of solidarity against the senseless shootings. Pastors and community leaders have also had several meetings to encourage citizens to report any criminal activities that they may witness. As a result of these efforts, 14 of the 16 shootings have resulted in an arrest of the shooters. If we were to assume that all of the shootings were committed by different individuals, that would be an impressive 88 percent arrest rate. If the community is reporting the crimes and the police department is arresting the criminals, then why does the perception still exist that we have a crime problem?

While the unacceptable spike in shooting incidents in our city is cause for concern, what is more alarming is the fact that many of the shootings are being committed by individuals that have been previously arrested or individuals that are out on bail awaiting trial for other felony offenses?

A short term fix is for those repeat offenders to be denied bail for a reasonable amount of time or until their upcoming hearings. This simple change would remove the criminal elements from the community and restore confidence in the community that the criminal activities are being addressed.

Long term, we as a city need to follow the example set by the Philadelphia Coalition. We must come together across racial lines and develop a long term strategy to address the root causes that are producing the crime in our city. Countless studies have shown that violent crime rates have more to do with poverty levels in a community than with the race of local residents

Unfortunately, there are still many people who mistakenly believe there is something about Black neighborhoods that make them more violent and prone to crime. Research shows that communities with the most crime tend to be those with the highest rates of poverty and other types of disadvantages regardless of whether they are predominantly Black or White. One common issue when trying to address crime in a community is a tendency to associate the search for a cause with a search for blame. If we choose to do nothing, we will all share the blame.

Although poverty is at the heart of crime, individuals still have to take responsibly for their own actions. Knowing and understanding what produces crime should never be seen as a way to absolve people from personal accountability.

However, while individuals have an obligation to act responsibly and with respect toward their fellow citizens, communities have a responsibility to address those conditions which hinder healthy development and can become the breeding ground for crime. Poverty breeds crime and in the process of the manufacturing of poverty comes the violence, the insanity, the drug epidemic, the deadbeat dads and the prison society.

Crime is primarily the outcome of multiple adverse social, economic and family conditions. In addition to lack of financial resources, poverty manifests itself in a lack of appreciation of educational opportunities, lack of meaningful employment options, poor housing and a lack of hope.

Our social structure mirrors to our youth and our communities what we value and how we set priorities.

Our actions now must make safety, respect, love of community and education our top priority.

Leroy Clemons is president of the Neshoba County NAACP.