Gaskin asks council to take action against violent crime

Published 7:04 pm Friday, December 28, 2018

During the closing minutes of the final LaGrange City Council meeting for the year, Council Member Nathan Gaskin asked that the city council consider what should be done about violent crimes against African American men in the community. 

One of the areas that Gaskin focused his comments around was the 2018 homicide rate in LaGrange. At that time, four people had been murdered within LaGrange City limits in the year. During the weekend following the meeting, an 18-year-old man died in a shooting near Troup Street, bringing the total up to five. 

“I for one do not like the term ‘black on black crime’ because I think it is actually more serious than that,” Gaskin said. “What we are doing, I believe is looking at this in the wrong perspective. We’ve had a homicide rate that has increased by 400 percent this year over last year, and being a freshman member of the council, we haven’t talked about it as much. Three of the homicide victims were African American. There have been several assaults. All African American men, and it is not exclusive, but the numbers when you look at them are overwhelming, where black men are the victims of crimes.”

There was only one murder in LaGrange city limits in 2017, marking the city’s lowest homicide rate since 2010 when there were no homicides on record. LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar said he believes the key to lower crime rates is community involvement.

“Violent crime is often unpredictable,” Dekmar said on Friday. “In our jurisdiction, you are involved in violent crime that is domestic related, alcohol related, drug related or gang related. So, every opportunity to intervene when there is an opportunity is imperative if we are going to continue to influence crime rates as a community. It requires engagement — neighborhoods, schools, faith and the police.”

Dekmar said that he considers overall trends the best indicator of crime over year to year statistics, and he said that while there is still work to do, the improvement is encouraging. 

“Based on what I have through November, overall, our crime is almost 7 percent down from last year overall, but we have an increase in homicides from one to five,” Dekmar said. “We have an increase in rape from three to four.”

However, during the council meeting, Gaskin said that violent crime, particularly within the African American community was far too high, and he compared the deaths to genocide. 

“Going forward over the Christmas holidays, I would like the council to look at it as genocide, and if we change our perspective of looking at it, perhaps we can change how we should deal with and remedy the problems,” Gaskin said. “One of those solutions that I bring forward is perhaps if black men are going to be the victims of violent crimes, whether they be stabbings, gunshot wounds, maybe we need to provide them the materials that they need to survive such an attack. I am not saying arm them. I am saying make available to them CPR. Make available to them first responders training. If they are going to be the subject of these attacks, then we need to do what we can as a city to help prevent them.”

Gaskin’s request was made during the closing comments of the meeting, so no action was taken. However, Mayor Jim Thornton indicated that the council would discuss possible solutions during future council meetings. 

“I think all of us share your concern about the violence in the community, and maybe there will be an opportunity to look for creative ways to address that in the future,” Thornton said. “It is a complicated problem, but we have other complicated problems that we talk about, and we find creative solutions for. We appreciate you raising the level of attention, and it is certainly something that the council and staff — particularly with input from the police department —can start to think about.”

Gaskin said that finding a way to reduce violent crime and homicide rates within the African American community is his top priority.

“This is going to be my number one objective going forward, to try to stop this insanity of trying to eradicate black men from this city, because that is all it is,” Gaskin said. “I’ve been a victim of these crimes myself, and they go unreported. No one says anything, and no one does anything. I can’t even go out to the [Parks and Recreation facilities] and have a meeting without violence erupting, and who are the targets? Who winds up getting shoved around and hit? Black men and it is abhorrent. We as a society, as a city have to take a step back and take a look at this for what it really is.”