LANCASTER — Four people – including a former Major League Baseball player and a mother of three – were already dead when Tamara Green Garris mobilized Lancaster residents in a prayer march and chant against gangs, drugs and violence.
Thursday night, Garris, a Lancaster City Council member, will pray and shout again – this time venting anger at the number of Lancaster County homicides that has nearly tripled in a matter of nine months.
“It’s horrifying,” said Garris, co-founder of the Lancaster Alternative Policing Strategy (LAPS), which hosts prayer vigils, presentations and marches to call attention to crime in the community.
Fourteen people have been killed in Lancaster County in 2012, including the victim of a self-defense slaying. The county’s most recent homicide was the shooting death of Michael Catoe, whose body was found alongside a road near Heath Springs.
In 2011, the county tallied five homicides.
“I can say that 95 or almost 100 percent of them (homicides) can be traced back to being drug-related or gang-related,” Sheriff Barry Faile said.
Many of the victims and suspects are repeat offenders who knew each other and aren’t unfamiliar with the justice system, Faile said.
“When we put on a program ... the people who really need to hear the message don’t show up,” he said. “We’ve got to get these folks that are causing these problems there to these programs.”
“It starts at the home,” he said.
For Garris, the community’s response starts at City Hall. Attendees will hear gospel music while members of LAPS distribute candy canes. Police officers will hand out stuffed animals to the children. Then, a roll call of those who died this year will be read aloud.
“We’ve got too many guns, murders, home invasions – too much crime period,” Garris said. “I think the days of turning heads like nothing’s happening or just waiting till it hits your door” are over.
Some have been proactive, Garris said, like Councilman Kenneth “Kenny” Hood and his neighborhood watch.
Hood, who represents District 1, said the watch meets once a month, organizes street cleanups, back-to-school drives and involves churches and other community organizations in its activities.
Still, in “my district … we have a lot of crime,” Hood said.
In February, former Major League Baseball player Danny Clyburn Jr. was shot to death on North Market Street, which runs right through the middle of Hood’s district. Clyburn’s death was the second homicide this year for the county, the first within city limits.
In June, produce stand owner Donald E. Morris was fatally shot at his South York Street home, also in Hood’s district.
Of the county’s 14 homicides this year, three have been within city limits.
“It’s terrible, it’s terrible,” Hood said. “The city police, along with the sheriff, they’re doing a lot. They can’t be everywhere at the same time.”
Like Faile, Hood blamed drugs and gangs on the explosion of violence.
“You don’t just go out and start shooting people for no reason,” he said. “If someone’s killed, that’s two families messed up. That’s two families hurt.”
Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082