All hell broke loose for five days.
Nine people were shot in a span of five days in Akron. Six were killed and three others survived. At the same time, an Arnold Avenue home was shot up 41 times, leaving a mother injured.
Akron police grappled for an explanation, telling law-abiding citizens that all was well. Even the mayor came out, explaining that those shot were targeted for a reason, such as drugs or love.
Fifteen months have passed since that bloody week in December 2011. In the aftermath, some arrests were made while other cases went unresolved, allowing killers to roam and families to grieve.
And while not in numbers as great as those in larger U.S. cities, gun violence in Akron continues to plague city neighborhoods, especially poorer black neighborhoods.
Since 2011, Akron police have responded to more than 500 firearm-related incidents. At the same time, they have also seized nearly 1,300 illegal firearms. In January alone, they took 70 guns off the street.
Yet, the shootings go on.
Already this year, a 4-year-old boy was shot and killed with his father’s pistol. Weeks earlier, a pregnant teenager was gunned down inside an Archwood Avenue home. In the same shooting, a 19-year-old woman was seriously injured by a bullet that pierced her head.
Most recently, a grandmother was shot as she drove past a group of men standing along a North Hill street. And just last week, the rear window of a car driven by a 17-year-old girl was shattered by an apparent gunshot.
The spate of gun violence has prompted a call for action, from families torn apart by the violence, to activists canvassing neighborhoods and to city leaders seeking a solution.
For Darrita Davis, the events in December 2011 marked a change in her life. No longer, she said, would she sit back and watch as young black men killed each other and witnesses turned their backs.
She leads the Stop the Violence Akron Movement, and it all started with a small meeting weeks after the rash of gunfire in late 2011.
“We were tired of all the people dying in the streets and we wanted to figure out what’s going on,” she said. “Is it jobs? Retaliation? What is it? Because we had never seen anything like it in the city of Akron like we saw in December.”
Davis and a handful of others began knocking on doors and holding their first street rally along Copley Road, in the heart of the West Akron neighborhood where violence seems so prevalent.
The shooting death of high school student Willie Brewer sparked the action. The 17-year-old was shot and killed in a hail of bullets fired in the middle of the afternoon on March 30, 2012.
Just two days after she carried a sign calling for peace, a gunman opened fire on Davis’ home on Wyandot Avenue. The shooting happened about 3:30 a.m. while Davis, 36, and her son slept. A police report shows the house was hit seven times, while her van was hit four times.
“I’m thinking, ‘Is somebody trying to take me out for trying to save my city?’ ” Davis said. “My family wanted me to scale back. They were in fear for my life. And it did scare me in the beginning. But then I said, ‘You know what, this is what I’m supposed to do. I can’t stop.’ ”
She hasn’t. Several days ago, Davis and her small group were back in the Copley Road neighborhood, knocking on doors along Dover Avenue where Monte “Boss” Pitts, 34, was shot repeatedly and killed just hours earlier.
Shot while driving
Wylene Edwards is proof that anyone can become a victim of gun violence. She’s 59 years old, a popular beautician in North Hill and a grandmother to six. She may be the only hairdresser in town with a bullet lodged in her shoulder.
She was shot inside her car in late January while driving through her neighborhood. Two men walking in the middle of Elma Street apparently didn’t appreciate her flashing her car’s high beams as she slowly approached.
After she passed, gunshots whizzed through her car. One bullet narrowly missed a major artery. Weeks later the bullet’s still in her shoulder as doctors ponder if it is safe to remove.
Recently, Edwards was invited to Washington, along with dozens of others whose lives were interrupted by gunfire, as President Barack Obama unveiled his plans to ease gun violence across America.
Edwards said she marveled at the sheer number of victims who stood around her in the nation’s capital.
“I didn’t realize until after I was shot how much gun violence there really is,” she said. “Sometimes it seems like there’s three or four a day in the newspaper. If they’re not shot, they’re killed. It’s terrible.”
Violence, she said, has roots in the biblical times of Cain and Abel. Nowadays, movies and video games seem to have hardened hearts, especially among our youth, she said.
“This violence you see in video games or what have you, you can pause it, rewind it, go back and that person’s alive again. But, in real life, if you shoot somebody you can’t rewind,” she said.
Tamika Lovejoy, an Akron mother of three, wonders if all the gunfire has dulled the public’s senses to the point of apathy. In February, her 17-year-old daughter, Diamond, was driving away from her father’s home on Grant Street when her car’s rear window shattered.
“I just heard this loud pop and I looked in my rearview mirror and I saw the glass break and shatter,” said Diamond Lovejoy.
The East High School senior said she’s grown up knowing what gunfire sounds like. She’s heard it before and believes it was a gunshot that shattered the window. She called police and an officer arrived. The patrolman stood outside the car, scanned the car’s back seat with his flashlight, promised a report and sent the girl on her way. No one looked for a bullet.
“It’s being treated like it’s just another shooting in Akron that won’t be solved,” Tamika Lovejoy said.
In an interview last week, the mother and daughter recounted the friends and family members affected by gun violence. Diamond Lovejoy remembered her friendship from middle school with Willie Brewer, the teen shot and killed last year.
“Look at how many innocent people get caught up in the crossfire,” the mother said. “I know you have violence everywhere, but in Akron it seems like there’s so much, it isn’t even funny. Things have totally changed.”
Up to the men
Raoof Ali Muhammad, 68, says he has seen the change over time. He recently led a rally along Copley Road to bring attention to the violence. He’s supporting stricter gun control and greater community involvement.
A disproportionate number of black males are being shot and killed or injured on Akron’s streets, he said. The shooter is often black. Activists say drug trafficking is at the heart of violence and guns are too easily accessible.
While Akron police are confiscating two illegal guns on a typical day, many more become available, some for as low as $50 to $100 for a handgun.
Too often, however, men have failed to come forward and take a stand against the violence, Muhammad said.
“It’s insanity run amok and at some point you have to stop this madness,” he said. “And it’s up to the men in the community to take the lead, not the women.”
Akron Police Chief James Nice is on his own gun crusade. Almost since he took over the job in 2011, he has made illegal guns and related crimes a top priority. He has met with neighborhood groups and clergy. He has criticized judges for soft sentences on those caught with illegal guns.
Nice is tracking every gun his officers seize. He’s now considering a push for harsher laws statewide that would require some form of prison for illegal firearm possession.
The former FBI agent says he sees a culture among today’s youths where carrying a gun is part of the wardrobe and where “it’s good to be a thug.”
“I think a lot of people think [gun violence] is rampant in the African-American community, as if everybody’s shooting at everybody,” he said. “But there’s a very small set of groups that are involved in this violence. ... It’s a very small percentage of the people responsible for [nearly] all the shootings.”
Nice said society has to change.
“I think this cultural thing is hurting us, and every city,” he said. “The first thing people have to do is convince young people not to carry a gun.”
Shooting is gruesome
Terri Anderson is not a proponent of gun control laws, even after her 17-year-old son, Tyler, was shot and killed last year in his Kenmore neighborhood. His death remains unsolved.
Gun control was nothing Anderson thought of much before her son’s death. She’s more focused on the lack of justice and the nightmares so many mothers live with, she said.
“The worst of the thoughts pertaining to Tyler being [killed] by a gun is the gruesomeness of it,” she said. “The nightmares involved about how Tyler died are horrifying. All mothers I have talked to who have lost a child to murder say the same thing. The nightmares are really bad for a long time.
“The pain in your heart never goes away, [it] just gets easier to deal with. It does not make me anti-gun because I feel the bad people will still have them. The ones who shot Tyler I am sure had no gun permit.”
Anderson remembered talking to a police officer before her son’s death. Rumors had it that Tyler owned a gun, the officer told her. She confronted her son, who denied the talk.
“I freaked out and searched and questioned him about it,” she said. “I thought why would a teenager need a gun? Popularity is what I hear from the teens I talk to. It’s cool.”
John Hafford runs the Patterson Park Community Center. He sees youths every day at work and through his time as a volunteer football coach. One player he worked with was Willie Brewer.
Hafford is also leading a group about to undertake a yearlong project aimed at inner-city violence. The Akron Peace Quilt Project is designed to “sew peace into the fabric of our community.”
Pieces of cloth with inspirational messages reflecting “hope and change for our community” will be sewn onto the quilt. Once completed, Hafford hopes the quilt will be displayed inside the Akron Art Museum.
Today’s youth, Hafford said, face multiple challenges, such as poverty, single-parent households, drug abuse and streets gangs. As a result, education, character and respect among our youth suffer.
Many kids are lost, he said, during the transition from middle school to high school. Most often, it’s economics driving the violence, but the reward is empty.
“Why are these young people killing each other. It’s not like they’re getting rich,” he said. “It’s a poor community as far as you’re killing somebody, take their life. For what reason? At the numbers it’s going, there is no good reason why this is happening and it’s happening so frequently.
“It’s almost getting to the point where you’re expecting it to happen again real soon. So, if we don’t take the time to teach our kids, we’re in trouble.”