Liberty County NAACP Branch President Graylan Quarterman said he had hoped a recent roundtable talk would prompt elected and appointed officials to agree to appoint a citizen’s advisory group to discuss on race, police and gun violence.
They appointed themselves instead.
"You’ve got your advisory group right here," said state Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, one of the more than 30 government, school, public safety and church leaders who attended the Aug. 7 discussion at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center. "We’re here talking, answering questions, this is great. Let’s don’t fill up the plate again before we eat what we’ve already got on the plate."
Quarterman said Tuesday he’s not sure when the next roundtable
will be, but he told those at the Aug. 7 meeting that they need to have dialogue with residents who don’t necessarily trust officials. Quarterman pointed to voters refusing to renew SPLOST in the 2014 election as an example of a lack of trust in government.
"There is an element in our community that doesn’t trust the people in this room. This is a reality, folks, and I don’t want that lack of trust to elevate to where we’ve got somebody laying in the street," he said.
It was a conversation that focused largely on police, race and gun violence.
Liberty County School Board Chairwoman Lilly Baker and Hinesville Assistant City Manager Kenny Howard both spoke of being impacted by gun violence — Howard’s brother was shot and killed by someone with an AK-47, he said, and Baker said her son-in-law was stalked for a year after a disagreement before he was shot 14 times. He survived, but the violence had a lasting impact.
"Gun violence affects families forever," said Baker, who thanked police for their service.
Georgia is considered part of gun pipeline because of the ease in which guns can be obtained legally, Williams said, noting that he supports the Second Amendment.
"Access to guns in Georgia is incredible," the lawmaker said. "It’s ignored by people who are extreme pro-gun, but anybody at any age and at any time can buy a gun in Georgia and it’s very lucrative. A gun that’ll cost you $250 in Hinesville, will get you $1,000 on the block in New York City. It’s a money thing."
Midway Police Officer Mark Rich, who attended the meeting with Midway Police Chief Kelli Morningstar, said he’s not sure banning certain weapons will work. Most guns used in crimes are cheap handguns, he said, not assault rifles.
"From a law enforcement perspective we see a lot of gun violence and gun crimes," Rich said. "However, a gun is a tool. Somebody has to make a decision to pick up the tool and then make another decision to use it unlawfully and illegally. It goes back to education, morals, ethics and education."
He asked, "How do we change the overall environment to make it so our young people don’t make bad decisions in life that are going to affect them and the entire community later on?"
Esrom Quarterman facilitated the roundtable, which included most of the county’s top elected and appointed officials. Among those to attend was Connections Church Pastor Tim Byler. He said it was important that the issues were approached from all sides and people had to leave their agendas at home.
"This may not sit well with some folks, but I’ve told my congregation I don’t want to hear anybody say we agree to disagree anymore," Byler said. "I think those are the most dangerous words in our culture, because the minute we agree to disagree we are just shaking hands saying we agree to live in disagreement and we can leave peaceably until we get to that place where we can’t, and then we’ve got a problem."
Williams said nothing will change until people begin to talk about difficult issues, including race.
"Everyone takes off and runs the other way when you want to talk about race, because we get very uncomfortable," he said, adding, "In spite of all our efforts, still the most segregated time in America is from 11 to 1 on Sunday and from 4:30 p.m. on when folks who have been together all day long leave and some go this way and some go that way."
He said race relations are good in Liberty County when it’s one person dealing with someone they know.
"Everybody knows somebody they’re very comfortable with, but when you deal with the masses then we end up in different directions," Williams said.