Our Views: Unite to halt bloodshed in Beloit

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

This summer of sorrow continues in Beloit. Early Monday, a man told police they could find his father dead at home. The 30-year-old man implicated himself in his dad’s death.

Beloit has suffered eight homicides in the past four months, a rate perhaps unprecedented in the city.

Most have involved guns. Six people have died in shootings. Five victims have been young and black. Police believe the shooters also are young and black. Only one faces a charge so far.

Beloit is so much more than this killing spree. Unfortunately, the bloodshed hurts the image of a community enjoying a revival. Job opportunities are improving. The city features a downtown and riverfront renaissance, Beloit College attractions, a large farmers market, restaurants and other cultural activities that are the envy of Janesville.

Some Janesville residents won’t venture into Beloit out of fear. The shootings, however, mainly involve residents of two small poverty-stricken neighborhoods. These are the Summit Park area east of the river and Eighth Street to the west. Too often, combatants settle small arguments with big consequences.

Authorities and others agree that drug trafficking, social media and retaliation are at play. Drug dealers ensnare teens and young adults who want to make money fast and impress gangs from Rockford and Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee.

Trouble spots are easily identified. How to stop the flow of blood is another matter. To their credit, authorities, ministers and agencies such as Community Action are rallying to the cause.

Other parts of Rock County have also suffered shooting deaths this year. While some in Beloit suggest a phone call can deliver a gun faster than a pizza, the shootings should give pause to families that own guns. If someone is behaving erratically or running with the wrong crowd, don’t ease access to that weapon. Keep it under lock and key.

Beloit could use more officers in the streets. Police Chief Norm Jacobs says recent budget cuts cost his department six officers. It also cost money to operate a valuable gunshot sensor system. Jacobs is expecting FBI help. Sheriff Robert Spoden and Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore also pledge support.

“It’s just an unfortunate situation that they’re having to endure,” Spoden said of Beloit. “It’s horrible. It’s sad. I don’t know if it speaks more to our community in the sense that the younger generation lacks understanding of violence or if it’s unwillingness to take accountability for what they’re doing.”

Spoden added in a phone interview: “We’re going to be there, do anything we can to help Beloit. Beloit people pay county taxes, too. They deserve a sense of security. The Beloit Police Department is dedicated to trying to make that happen.

“I think more important, more of us as a community have to look inward. Is there something we can be doing, at church, as a community? We’ve got to break this culture of gun violence and of treating life at such a low level.”

Churches, businesses and others supported an Aug. 13 rally at Summit Park, scene of two recent shootings. The event brought food and fun, prayer and preaching, happiness and hope. Minister Navana Winston has created Beloit Strong, a Facebook page, and is helping plan a Summit Park church service at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7, weather permitting.

Winston sees family disintegration at the root of trouble. She believes parents must take more responsibility for raising their kids and invites a spiritual renewal.

“We’ve got to go back to where the church, the community and the parents are raising the child,” she told reporter Frank Schultz in Sunday’s Gazette. “We’ve gone a long way from that, and we’re paying for it.”

She added: “This community, if we all come together, we can wrap our arms around this.”

For residents in Beloit and throughout Rock County, that can’t happen soon enough.

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