JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Local law enforcement, along with city and faith leaders said it’s time to end the violence in Jacksonville following a violent week leading to a string of senseless deaths.
Hundreds of people gathered to pray together to remember those lost and to find solutions at a vigil at Bethel Baptist Church in downtown Jacksonville Monday night.
The violence of the past several days is garnering a lot of attention and 22-month-old Aiden McClendon, killed in an apparent drive-by shooting Friday night, has become the face of the violence.
Mayor Lenny Curry got emotional as he addressed the McClendon family directly at the vigil Monday night.
“As a member of your family and the leader of your city, I apologize that you’ve had to experience this loss in this city,” Curry said.
The new year has been off to a bloody start with 15 homicides, 14 of which were murders.
Organizers of the vigil memorialized Aiden and the others lost to violence over the past several weeks, and ultimately just want to see an end to the violence.
“It’s just an incredible show of people across lines of race and faith to say that we’re tired,” said Rudolph McKissick, senior pastor of Bethel Baptist Church. “We’re not going to stand for this, and we are demanding justice and love at the same time.”
A.J. Jordan, vice president and community activist with Men Against Destruction-Defending Against Drugs and Social disorder said the past several days have been like nothing he’s ever seen.
Jordan attended the vigil hoping to get others on board with the effort to cut back on violent crime.
In response to the spike in crime, Jordan said MAD DADS will continue its work with more commitment than ever.
MAD DADS is a group of community activists working to make the streets of Jacksonville a little safer. According to Jordan, people have good intentions of affecting change, but don’t always stick with it.
Jordan said solutions will only come from getting involved at a grassroots level and getting to know people in the community. That, he said, is the only way to end senseless killings, like Aiden's.
"We're going to find you. We're going to continue to share that information, walk the streets, build that trust with the community until you are exposed,” Jordan said. “We're going to do it. You're not going to be able to walk free in our community and kill, at will.
“Prayer is good, but Jesus always followed prayer by action. So, after this, we have to hit the streets and we have to do our part to get these criminals off the streets. Period.”
Much of Monday night’s focus was on faith. Speakers talked about using that faith to teach young people right from wrong, as a way to prevent violent crime on the streets of Jacksonville.
Gang-related shooting leaves 22-month-old boy dead
News4Jax is looking deeper into the gang problem in Jacksonville following the gang-related shooting death of the 22-month-old boy.
Aiden was shot and killed when he was sitting in a car on Spearing Street on the Eastside.
Police said his mother and grandmother were in the car, and that they weren't the intended targets of the shooting. Bullet holes could be seen in the home Monday afternoon.
Finding out who was the intended target would have been the first priority for Jacksonville police, News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said.
Less than five hours after Aiden was killed, police said the deadly shooting was gang-related.
Smith said information from the community likely led investigators to make that determination quickly.
“More than likely they were able to get information from someone in the community, someone who may have been targeted or someone near that residence who came forth with the information,” Smith said.
Smith said gang members often commit drive-by shootings because they're quick.
“The dangerous part about this is they don't always hit the intended target and quite often innocent people are hit,” Smith said.
He said that could have been the case with the shooting death of 22-year-old Jerry Brown just after midnight last Thursday.
Family members said Brown was sitting in his car outside of his aunt's house about to go home when he was shot and killed.
Smith said when gang members know who's responsible for a shooting, there's sometimes retaliation and more violence.
Some of that violence is seen in rap videos. Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei told News4Jax during an investigation last year that those rap videos are used by gang members to promote themselves.
That investigation revealed there were 47 gangs in Jacksonville with 1,100 to 1,200 members as of early last year.
In the rap music videos, gang members are seen proudly flashing guns and speaking about shooting someone in the face.
Mantei said the lyrics could lead to more murders.
Smith said a big part of Jacksonville's gang problem is recruitment.
One former gang member told News4Jax that gang members were being recruited as young as 11 years old.
And last year, the Duval County School Board Police Department told News4Jax there were 43 known gang members in schools.
“They're not forced into gangs. No one makes them do it,” Smith said. “They're attracted to the gangs, sometimes by the violence and just for the brotherhood.”
An arrest warrant following the investigation into several gang members last year revealed gang members will pay between $500 and $10,000 for a "contracted" hit on someone or to kill someone.
Smith said solving the city's gang problem starts with people feeling more comfortable speaking to police, and said the $1 million commitment from the mayor to fund police overtime should help that.