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Homi­cide vic­tims all black men

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BY AMELIA HARPER AND LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writers

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Every victim of the 16 homicides last year in Rocky Mount was a black male.

The Telegram does not usually note the race of victims in its crime accounts. But when the results are as stark as this, the issue of who the homicide victims are deserves to be examined. The large number of black residents who died at the hand of another in the city amounts to what some residents refer to as a slaughter of black men.

This is a trend that has been happening in Rocky Mount over the past few years. From 2013 to 2016, the Rocky Mount had 36 homicides. Of that number, 32 victims were black and all but two of those were black men. This brings the total to 46 black men who have been slain in the past five years in Rocky Mount.

Of the 16 homicides that took place in 2017, 15 are being treated by Rocky Mount police as murders. The last homicide of the year, they say, was a justifiable homicide. However, of these 15 murder victims, 11 were 30 years old or younger. The youngest was 16.

The suspects in these crimes are young as well. So far, only five of the 15 cases have been solved. Those five cases netted seven suspects who now await trial. Six of those suspects are black men and one is a black woman. The oldest of these suspects is 26 and the youngest is 18. Four of the seven were still in their teens at the time the homicide was committed.

Rocky Mount Interim Police Chief Willie Williams said that the murder rate is a priority for him

“We are trying to reduce the number of murders in Rocky Mount,” Williams told the Telegram during a recent Chat with the Chief event he held to connect with the residents of the city. “That is our primary focus right now. As a result of that, we are doing other things as well, but the No. 1 focus of the department is reducing and preventing murders.”

Some residents point to the rising number of murders in other parts of the state as a reason for the increase in violent crime. However, Rocky Mount’s homicide is still proportionately high. Wilmington and Raleigh both reported 26 homicide victims last year, but Wilmington’s population is three times Rocky Mount’s and Raleigh has roughly nine times the number of residents.

Rocky Mount police would not release information about how many of the homicides they consider to be gang-related, but Williams said gang activity does account for much of the violent crime in the city. Williams spoke openly about the issue with the Telegram.

‘I don’t know if the issue of gang violence was underplayed in the past, but it is not now,” Williams said. “I think we have a high gang concern in the city, and that is certainly contributing to our violent crime problem. I can tell you we have a very, very strong organization in place to deal with the issue and our gang unit functions as well as any. We have the personnel there, the resources there and the leadership there to help deal with the problem.”

Rocky Mount Councilman Andre Knight said there is no excuse for murder. However, Knight did suggest that there are underlying societal reasons that are contributing to the problem. The root cause of murders in Rocky Mount is poverty and the all-too-easy access to guns, Knight told the Telegram in a sit-down interview in which he was invited to participate.

“We do have a gang problem,” Knight said, adding that children who are expelled or suspended from school end up with the streets taking care of them in what he called the pipeline from school to prison.

Poor children with a single mother who works two jobs might enter fifth grade not knowing how to read and soon lose interest in school. Children who live in motels and cars and are worried about staying warm and eating don't have much time for academics. And there could be other problems within the home, Knight said.

“Housing, employment, education — all that plays a role in how people live,” Knight said, providing data from the U.S. Census Bureau that shows racial disparity in the local job market.

The unemployment rate in Rocky Mount among black men, ages 16 to 64, is more than triple that of white men. Just over 20 percent of black men in that age range are unemployed while the rate drops significantly, to 6 percent, among white males, according to the American Community Survey, which was published in late 2017.

“This is not a black problem, a white problem or a Latino problem,” Knight said. “It's a Rocky Mount problem.”

It will take schools, churches, local governments, nonprofit groups and more coming to the table to solve the issue together, Knight said, adding that the city has held community forums on the issue in the past and it may be time to do so again.

“We can't be reactive anymore, we have to be proactive,” Knight said.

The following is a list of victims in the 10 city homicide cases from 2017 that remain unsolved:

■ Orlando “Ted” Flowers Sr., 45, was shot Feb. 5 on the 800 block of Arlington Street. His case is detailed in this edition of the Telegram.

■ Alcindor Marcellais Wardrick Jr., 27, was shot March 11 on the 600 block of Short Street. Responding police found him dead in his home. Family described Wardrick as well-known and well-liked in the community and a genuine person with a humorous streak.

■ Timothy Dale Arrington, 26, was shot April 30 on the 400 block of St. Paul Street. He was hit in a drive-by shooting and died at the hospital. Neighbors said shootings in the area were becoming too common in South Rocky Mount.

■ Robert Roger Lynch, 44, was shot Aug. 10 on the 100 block of Tony Circle. He died of his wounds at the hospital. Management at the Thorne Ridge Apartments II is looking into increasing security at the complex.

■ James Earl Harper, 65, was beaten to death Sept. 6 on the 500 block of Arrington Avenue. Responding officers found Harper's body in the street. A 1970 graduate of G.W. Carver High School, Harper was beloved in his community.

■ Keenan Marshall Mercer, 21, was shot Sept. 15 on the 800 block of South Pine Street. A patrol officer heard the late-morning shots and tried to save Mercer, but it was too late. He died in the emergency room. Neighborhood residents said the shooting left them shaken.

■ Lewis Kirby Hicks, 29, and Jeremy Rashad Bell, 30, were shot Oct. 15 on the 1800 block of Sunset Avenue. Hicks died almost immediately and Bell died later in the hospital. It's believed they were involved in an argument with a group of men at a nearby night club before the shooting.

■ Jahmel Montey Dales, 22, was shot Dec. 18 on the 1100 block of Niblick Drive. Responding officers couldn't find anyone injured at the scene, but soon learned Dales was taken to the hospital by a friend. He sucumbed there to his wounds.

■ Leroy William Dunston, 44, was shot Dec. 23 on the 900 block of Gay Street. He was taken to the hospital where he died. Little else is known about the case. Friends said the Brooklyn native was always smiling.

Anyone with information about these or any other crimes in the area is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 252-977-1111 or crimestoppers@rockymountnc.gov. Text a tip to police at 274637 by beginning messages with RMPOL to direct the tip to the Rocky Mount Police Department and type up to 155 characters about the information.

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