Chief ties the courts’ COVID issues to surge in local crime

Darlington County Sheriff James Hudson speaks. Seated at the table behind him is Darlington Police Chief Kelvin Washington. PHOTOS BY BOBBY BRYANT

Kim Nelson, chief of security/safety for the Darlington County School District, speaks at the forum.

Darlington residents were on hand and asked questions regarding the situation.

By Bobby Bryant, Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic is one subtle reason for the recent surge in gun violence in the Darlington County area, Darlington Police Chief Kelvin Washington said last week during a forum on fighting crime in the community. “We kind of discovered this last week,” Washington said during the June 2 forum at Harmon Baldwin Gym on Sanders Street. “We should have realized it.” “One of the things that this pandemic has done,” Washington said, is that the court system has not been able to operate normally for several months. The local courts, he says, have only been able to operate through video, with no jury trials, creating a backlog. Washington said, “What we’re finding is over half of the people that are creating problems for us in our community, they’ve got pending charges. Unfortunately, pending violent charges.” And they’re awaiting jury trials. “We’re going to be meeting with the judges, and hopefully meeting with the solicitor,” Washington said. “ … We’re going to have to do something to get some of these folks off the streets.” “ … If they get charged with a serious crime, and they make bond, and they don’t go to court, and nothing happens for a while – in their minds, they’re thinking they got away with something. So why not continue to participate in criminal activity? “We realized last week somewhere between 50 to 75 percent of the people that are creating problems not only in this community, but in the Darlington County area, have pending General Sessions Court cases. The solicitor has committed to us that they’re going to work very, very closely with us to try to get some of these folks off the streets.” Washington said he doesn’t enjoy putting people in jail, or ultimately sending them to prison. But “we have a responsibility to you all to keep your community safe. … If it takes locking up half of Darlington to get it done, then that’s what we’re going to do.” About two dozen people attended the forum; organizers had hoped for more, especially more parents. The attendees included state Rep. Robert Williams, Darlington County Council member Joyce Thomas and Darlington City Council member Elaine Reed. Speakers included Washington, Darlington County Sheriff James Hudson, the Darlington County School District’s first chief of safety/security, Kim Nelson, and a local representative of the state Department of Juvenile Justice. “In this community and surrounding communities, we have had a number of gun-related incidents, some of those incidents unfortunately resulting in death – throughout this community, this county, the Pee Dee area, this state and this country,” Washington said. “It’s going to take all of us … to solve this,” Washington said. “This didn’t begin as a police problem. It becomes a police problem when they pull the trigger. But all these issues leading up to those triggers being pulled, they’re not police problems. They’re social issues. They’re economic issues.” Nelson said people must “implant in our children that they are important, and that they have a purpose, and that they have a plan, and that there’s something greater for their life. COVID has come in and has put our children on hold. … Now that things are opening back up, we have that plan. We have a purpose.” “Your child is important,” Nelson said. “Every child in our Darlington County area is important. Every young man who has went to that jail, who is sitting out there in Darlington County jail right now, that’s somebody’s child sitting out there. It’s our job to let them know, ‘You messed up, but there still is hope for you.’” Nelson added: “Guns don’t kill people. People make a conscious decision to pull that trigger to hurt someone. It’s important that we let our young people know that when you pick that gun up, you’re making a conscious decision to pull that trigger. Think about it before you do it. Think about things before you decide to join or become part of that gang. Think about it. You can do a lot better.” Sheriff Hudson said: “We are in this fight together. Don’t give up. Stay focused. Stay strong. Together we can do it.” Hudson said things are fundamentally different for youths now than when he was growing up. It’s a “generational” issue, he said. “It is uncomfortable for us, because we have not experienced it before.” “We’re here together,” Hudson said. “We’ve got a problem in our society. And if we don’t get together and work on it, it’s going to get worse. And our kids, and our grandkids, and our great-grandkids, and our great-great-grandkids, won’t have a future.” “I see our society going backwards,” he said. “We don’t want to get involved with the issues we are faced with every day. And sooner or later, we’ve got to step in the mess to get it cleaned up.”

Author: Stephan Drew

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