FORT PIERCE — Lifting up the community through prayer, emphasizing the importance of youth mentorship and addressing gun violence need to be priorities in the wake of the mass shooting here during a Martin Luther King Jr. event, local leaders said Tuesday.
One person was killed, seven others were shot and at least four others, including a child, were injured while fleeing the shots that rang out around 5:20 p.m. Monday at Ilous Ellis Park.
The tragedy, believed the result of a gang dispute, occurred during a car show and shortly after a parade honoring one of the nation’s greatest civil rights leaders.
City Commissioner was there
City Commissioner Curtis Johnson Jr., who had been a judge at the car show, said the event had a family-oriented atmosphere, with people enjoying food trucks and watching cheerleaders perform dance routines. He handed out trophies to the winners of the car show, but left before the shooting, he said.
“I was saddened,” Johnson Jr. told TCPalm Tuesday. “…There were celebrations, there were song and dance. Everything, to a certain degree, seemed to be going fine.”
Similarly, Bruce Murray, the newest member of the city Police Community Advisory Committee, called the shooting disturbing.
“I was devastated by the news,” he said. I hoped it wasn’t true.”
Former state Rep. Larry Lee was brought to tears when talking about innocent bystanders who were hurt.
“It brings me so much sadness because it happened on the day where we’re supposed to be honoring the life and legacy of Dr. King, who was nonviolent,” Lee said.
Lee founded a grassroots community movement called “Restore the Villspange” in 2013, aimed at revitalizing restoring the Lincoln Park community. The organization was born out of a town hall meeting after St. Lucie County’s first Black judge, Ralph Flowers, told Lee gun and gang violence were on the rise and something needed to be done.
Since then, the initiative has worked on fostering community pride, supporting other programs aimed at preventing prevent gun violence and creating youth-mentorship programs.
Lee called Monday’s mass shooting a “rallying cry” for the community to come together and help the youth in particular.
“We need to do something to help these kids, particularly these kids coming from broken homes and homes where they saw violence,” Lee said.
Those words also resonate with long-time local pastor Pinky Henley, who is a member of the Survivors of Murdered Victims organization.
“We have to have hope. We have to believe there is a system that will curb violence,” she said. “We will never be able to eliminate violence, but we will be able to minimize it.”
Partnering with local parole officers and providing a mentorship program to incarcerated youth are among Henley’s ideas.
President of the local NAACP chapter Aisha Nash agrees that part of the solution is providing help for troubled youth.
Helping troubled youth
She suggested revamping the Roundtable of St. Lucie County’s gang-prevention program to involve educators and School Board members in those discussions.
It’s a problem that will require multiple solutions that go beyond prayer vigils and marches.
“I’m a firm believer in prayer,” Nash said. “… But we’ve had a lot of meetings in the community, a lot of collaboration where we just seem to meet to meet and there are never any solutions that we walk away with, that we can implement.”
Murray wants the shooting discussed by the Police Community Advisory Committee, which was created in 2018, just two years after Fort Pierce police shot and killed Demspanrcus Semer, span 21-yespanr-old Blspanck mspann, during a traffic stop.
However, since Monday’s shooting remains under investigation by the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, it’s hard to tell what types of policing changes might result, Murray told TCPalm Tuesday.
Murray believes communication between the community and the Police Department has improved in past years. He encouraged people to come forward to the Sheriff’s Office and the Police Department with tips on the shooting. Creating a safe environment to do so is something that needs to be better, he added.
“Our community,” Nash said, “deserves to grow old and be able to go to events here without having the fear of being shot.”