By Joe Johnson
People across the country woke up on consecutive days this weekend to learn about two more mass shootings that brought the total number of such crimes this year to 252.
While lawmakers and citizens continue the debate on how to end the gun carnage in America, a group of Athens residents spent Saturday afternoon discussing what can be done to address gun violence locally.
A national tipping point might not yet have been reached to affect real gun-control change, but the July 22 shooting death of a young pregnant Athens woman has galvanized some local residents to do something that might save future lives from being snuffed out by bullets.
Auriel “Thumpa” Callaway was with her 3-year-old son outside her home at Clarke Gardens apartments when a fight in the housing complex escalated into gunfire and Callaway was fatally shot by a wayward bullet.
Six days later, Callaway’s uncle held a successful gun buy-back that got 41 firearms off the street.
At Flanigan’s Portrait Studio in the Triangle Plaza shopping center on Saturday, the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement held the first in a planned series of monthly meetings to discuss strategies to deter local youths from using guns.
AADM’s president, Mokah-Jasmine Johnson, said one goal was to recruit 10 adults from each of Athens’ housing sections and have them convene at a later meeting to devise a plan of action.
“We need to form a coalition to save our community,” she said.
In attendance at Saturday’s meeting was Athens Alliance Coalition president Charles Hardy, a former convict who said he carried a gun as a teenager.
Hardy, whose nonprofit group mentors Athens youth, said some people begin carrying guns as juveniles because of the environment in which they are growing up.
“They think they need a gun for protection,” he said.
If the various housing sections had a group of parents and adults like himself with whom youths can relate, they might go to them with problems before they escalate to violence.
“It starts with the parents, not with the kids,” Hardy said.
According to Hardy, youths can buy guns on the street for as little as $20, and sometimes get them for free from friends or by stealing them.
Hardy said he believed that Callaway’s death was a tipping point for many in the Athens community.
“She was a real sweet, loving person who was for everything that’s right and people are just angry upset abut the way she was killed,” he said. “She was out there with her young son when all these kids start fighting and shooting and she got killed trying to protect her child.”
Callaway was several months pregnant with a girl, who also died.
Knowa Johnson, Mokah-Jasmine Johnson’s husband and AADM’s vice president, rattled off a list of friends and family members who Johnson said were killed by gun violence, including his teenage son who was fatally shot several years ago in Florida.
“I, myself, had a gun pulled on me three times as a teen,” he said.
“Gun violence has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” he said.
Knowa Johnson said the AADM will conduct advocacy training to those who want to be get involved in the anti- gun violence movement.
I’m pushing hard for black men to get involved,” he said.
The AADM will be regularly holding additional meetings on the first Saturday of each month.