Hamilton County commissioner to host community talk on gun violence after Chattanooga shootings

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Ellis Orr and Emoni Orr, 4, bring balloons to a memorial set up in memory of LaBrecia Dews, who Ellis had a child with, on the 1100 block of Grove Street on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Dews was one of two women killed during a shooting at a block party on Grove Street late Saturday.

Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey said Wednesday that he will host an open meeting for anyone in Chattanooga or the county to brainstorm ideas on how to address gun violence after a series of deadly shootings.

"On Saturday, seven women were shot," Mackey said at Wednesday's commission meeting. "Two were murdered. There's a 14-year-old girl who is in the hospital. That is totally unacceptable. This gun violence is at a rate and at a point where if we're the leaders we profess to be, we all have to step up."

Last weekend's shootings claimed the lives of two women, Labrecia Dews, 37, and Keniqua Hughes, 21, and a man, Jailen Wofford, 21. Several others were left hospitalized or wounded.

"These people are suffering," Mackey, D-Lake Vista, said of community members. "They are hurting. We need to take care of them, and it won't be easy. The challenges they are facing are very deep. Those challenges range from economic, social, emotional. People have been abused. There's so much that needs to be done."

Mackey said he thought it was important to discuss the topic with community members because only they understand the underlying problems that lead to gun violence and other crime. In his experience as an elected official, he said, he has found that when people tell you they have a problem, they often already have ideas for potential solutions.

Mackey originally scheduled the summit for 2 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Kingdom Center at Olivet Baptist Church, but his fellow commissioners asked that it be moved to a different day so Chattanooga City Council members would be able to attend if they wished.

The council has a regular meeting set for that day beginning at 3 p.m. Mackey agreed to the request and said a firm date and time for the summit will be announced on the county website in the next few days.

"The message we're taking forward is, put the guns down. It shouldn't have to happen to someone you know," he said. "Seven women were shot. That should make all of us cry."

Commissioner Katherlyn Geter, D-Ridgeside, said her heart broke when she heard that the seven women had been shot over the weekend on Grove Street. She has family and friends who live in that area and said she spent most of the weekend thinking about how what happened could have happened to them.

She said she was tired of seeing others lose their lives, and she joined Mackey in calling on elected officials to get involved with the issue of violence and with the College Hill community in general and to stay involved after this most recent series of shootings is no longer in the headlines.

(READ MORE: Three dead, several injured after weekend shootings in Chattanooga)

"We keep having these conversations, and I applaud when leaders like us are courageous and speak up when things like this happen, but where are we every other day? Where are we at? What are we doing?" Geter said. "Come next week, these people's problems are not going away, but I guarantee you we're going to all be moved on to another crisis here in Chattanooga and Hamilton County. If we're really serious about this we can't keep saying, 'Well, we're tired of Black-on-Black crime,' or 'That's wrong, a Black person shot another Black person.' It's going to take more than that."

City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod of Ridgeside addressed the commission at the end of its meeting.

Coonrod is raising her 6-year-old granddaughter, who witnessed her father's death by gun violence, and said she was excited about the opportunity for the city, county and community to work together to address crime and the systemic and social problems that lead to it, such as poverty and poor educational opportunities. She said she wished gun violence was given the same attention as the COVID-19 pandemic by leaders locally and nationwide because it "needs to be treated like a crisis.

"In our community, we are now stepping over bodies. We can no longer afford not to address it," Coonrod said. "It can no longer be political. We have to put those affiliations to the side and stand in unity to address this issue in the right way."

Not much has been publicly released about what led to the shooting on Grove Street on Saturday. No suspects have been identified.

(READ MORE: Four dead, two charged in McMinn Saturday shooting over small child)

Coonrod said that although there were many witnesses, there were not many willing to speak openly about what they might have seen. A "snitch code" exists in the community, she said, that keeps people in fear. Many believe that speaking to police could result in retaliation against them.

"The snitch code is this concept that you can't snitch on your friends. It's the idea that you've been caught doing something wrong and you want to tell on somebody else to get them in trouble instead. But let me tell you, if you witness something and you're coming forth for justice, that's not snitching," Coonrod said. "We have to get into the mindset that it's OK to come forward and speak the truth to what's happening. We've got so many families that haven't had justice served who continue to mourn. They're reminded about it on Facebook. They're reminded about it when another shooting happens. We just can't continue to allow this."

A little more than four hours before the Grove Street shooting on Saturday, just before 6 p.m., police responded to a separate shooting in the 5300 block of Old Mission Road. Officers found a 45-year-old man who was later taken to a local hospital with a non-life-threatening gunshot wound, according to investigators.

A few hours before that, at around 10:30 a.m., another shooting took place in the 3400 block of Campbell Street. Police arrived to find Wofford suffering from a gunshot wound. He later died at a local hospital.

Anyone with information about any of the shootings is asked to call Chattanooga police at 423-643-5100 or submit a tip through the department's mobile app. Tipsters can remain anonymous.

Contact Kelcey Caulder at kcaulder@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.