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York shows Florida the right way to react to gun violence

A police sergeant and a captain in York sat down to sandwiches at the Subway inside the Walmart Monday, just a few minutes after noon. The chief of police in York, and a lieutenant, were at another table nearby, getting ready to eat.

On the other side of the city, a woman who worked 20-plus years in textile mills was enjoying the sunny weather on York’s California Street.

Her disabled father was inside, a man who worked even more years in mills, and has owned this house for decades – paid for with money made from hard, back-breaking work.

The woman’s granddaughter was there, too, just 4 years old.

Others on this street of many retirees, proud black people who lived there long before drugs and guns came to neighborhoods, enjoyed the weather Monday.

“Every person on California Street has every right to sit outside and enjoy life as anybody else anywhere does,” York Police Chief Andy Robinson said of that street in the sun.

Then what always seems to ruin streets and lunches and days – gunshots – shocked the street and ruined the lunches. Somehow, thankfully, nobody was hurt, or worse, killed.

The police did not sit idly by and finish eating. The lady and other neighbors did not lock themselves in the house.

All acted, and a convicted felon was caught 17 minutes later, after fighting hand-to-hand with the police chief himself and another officer. The felon allegedly had two guns on him.

This shooting by a man in a red truck, firing into a blue truck as the two vehicles passed each other in the middle of the street, was just yards from where another murder happened a few years ago.

“This one was so close I had to worry was I going to be hurt,” said the lady who lives across the street.

She waited for police to come after so many people called 911, and all stood up for everybody who ever worked hard in life. So many told responding officers what was seen and heard. People did not accept violence on streets where they live and love and go to church.

Because gunshots can kill and had killed, in the very same block of the very same street, right where little kids get on and off the school bus.

But the man in the red truck had fled. The entire York department had been notified of the shots fired call, and had teams already searching.

Still another officer – a school resource officer – found the vehicle matching the description of the one from which the shots were fired, one neighborhood over across busy Congress Street. But the driver jumped out and ran, the police report from the incident shows.

A few minutes later Chief Robinson and Lt. Gary Messer were driving to help set up a perimeter to search for the suspect.

“Any time there are shots fired, and this was in the middle of the day, it is serious,” Robinson said. “Then the suspect moved, he was on the loose, so even more people were potentially in danger.”

Robinson and Messer saw a man fitting the shooter’s description walking north on Church Street, a few streets north of where the man had jumped from the truck, and a few streets east of where the initial shooting happened.

Hundreds, potentially thousands of people, were inside the radius of all the commotion that had happened.

Robinson, a chief who is still first and foremost a policeman, jumped out of the car while Messer leaped from the other side. The two policemen told the man to put his hands on the car, but the man tried to run. The chief and the lieutenant then grabbed the man, who tussled with the officers, according to the report and Robinson.

The two policemen held the suspect on the ground. When backup arrived, still another officer helping out, the suspect was handcuffed.

Police found two loaded handguns underneath the man, Robinson said. The suspect later told police that one of the guns was used in the shooting on California Street, Robinson said.

The arrested man was identified as Deelgin Jubree Robbins, 24, who lived even farther north, across busy Liberty Street, from where he was caught.

Robbins has convictions for robbery and drugs and violent crimes, starting when he was 16, according to the State Law Enforcement Division. He was paroled in 2010, said Pete O’Boyle, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, but the parole was revoked when he was re-arrested in 2010 and 2011.

As a convicted felon, Robbins could not legally possess a gun.

Robbins is being held at the York County Detention Center, without bond, on charges of attempted murder and possession of a weapon, plus charges of assault on a police officer while resisting arrest, and other weapons charges.

This is just one of the people that ruined daytime peace and quiet and lunches, Monday in York.

It is almost unheard of for a police chief, the boss, to end up as the officer catching a suspect in any case – let alone one that involved a daytime shootout and flight that endangered a third of an entire city of 8,000 people.

“I am not going to ask my people to do anything that I am not willing to do,” Chief Robinson said. “We were close. We went to assist. We saw him walking. That is what police officers do.”

Robinson wound up with a wrenched back; Messer with a stiff knee – but nothing serious. Robbins, the suspect, was unhurt.

York Mayor Eddie Lee – whose father was a police officer for more than 30 years – said Robinson’s actions, and those of the entire department, “defused a potentially explosive situation.”

Without question, this whole event that took 17 minutes from shots fired to Robbins being caught could have gone sideways and turned into a crisis.

The officers could have been shot in the flight and capture. The armed suspect could have been shot had the situation deteriorated.

Any person in the surrounding neighborhoods, the public whom Robinson called “the innocent good people of York,” could have been shot.

The Rev. Dennis Wilson, president of the Western York County NAACP and a former police officer himself, said had the officers or the suspect been shot, it could have caused a crisis. The officers put public safety ahead of even their own safety.

That public, in the neighborhoods where these incidents took place, and where any person could have been hit by gunfire, is largely black.

“This could have been, plainly, terrible for York,” Wilson said. “Public safety has to come first. It is not acceptable to have shootings out in the public where people live. People who disregard the law must be dealt with, by the people who are trained to handle it – the police.”

On all those streets this week after the shooting, kids played, ladies worked on flowers, men cut grass. People sat on the porch and walked and talked, in the thrilling action of neighborhoods filled with great people on warm days.

“Public safety is the most important role of any municipal government,” Lee said. “Every neighborhood deserves clean streets, safe streets. The neighbors and officers hold community meetings. I go, too, and I see what people who live here want, whether they are black or white or Latino – safety.

“These officers showed that they are determined to make that happen, and did.”

But the people in York did not take guns into their hands and chase a guy who showed he would use a gun on a busy city street. They called police and police handled it.

It takes only a look to Florida this week to see how gun-toting for all the wrong reasons can shake a community – and now a nation.

Weeks ago, an armed man who was part of a community watch, for no apparent reason, chased and eventually shot a teenager who was unarmed. Sanford, Fla., and now the country, is still reeling over how an unarmed kid could be shot – and possibly how the shooter will never be charged if he was within the Florida self-defense law or federal hate crime laws.

That kid in Florida was black. The shooter was not. Race, like it is in York and everywhere there are black people and brown people and white people, has pushed the Florida shooting to the boiling point.

All of the persons involved in the shooting incident in York, between the two trucks, are black, police said. It made not a lick of difference to the police in York, or the wonderful people of the neighborhoods affected – as almost all of them are black, too.

The lady across the street, black, said she doesn’t care what color a person is who comes into her neighborhood and shoots in the middle of the day when kids are playing.

All of the neighbors who were shocked and mad and who talked to police, are black.

Dennis Wilson, NAACP president, black, a preacher, and a former policeman, said the issue in York in this case is not race, but guns.

These crimes, Florida and York, where one ended in death and the other with heroics, are the same on one count – guns are in the middle of all the chaos.

But the work by York police did not end Monday with a suspect in jail. Detectives worked the case all week.

Police and real people made this week in York a week without funerals after it could have been a powder keg of death and bullet holes.

Patrolmen who did not catch the suspect did their jobs – they talked to witnesses and canvassed where the shooting happened. Those people helped with statements.

A woman had told police, “I saw a dark-skinned guy get out of the blue truck and walk up on the porch and he pulled a long gun out of his pants in the front,” the police report states.

Yet the witness – a real person who lives a life of work and family and not violence as happened on her street – then told police that the gun “was black and brown, and looked like a shotgun, but she’s not familiar that much with guns.”

Forensics officers, way back on Monday, had seized a bullet, a shell casing and a sawed-off shotgun from the home where the blue truck parked a few doors down the street after the shooting, the report states.

The red truck that the suspect in custody had driven also had bullet holes in it, said police Capt. Brian Trail, who had leaped up from his lunch to help Monday.

By Friday, officers had arrest warrants for the two men in the blue truck – one of whom was listed as a victim in the original police report and claimed to officers initially, in that report, “the subject shot at him for no reason.”

Police are seeking Jarmichael Marquise Lynn, 21, and David Junior Hayes, 33, on weapons and other charges, Trail said.

“We want anyone involved in this to be off the streets,” he said. “Our department and others are looking for them. People deserve safe streets.”

Unlike the guy in Florida, the residents of York did not try to handle violent criminals with more violence. None chased anybody while carrying guns. They called the police, and the police did their job. The police caught the bad guys and protected everybody else.

Friday in Florida, people of all colors remained outraged – seemingly rightly so – because of a gun death.

But in York on Friday, because of good people of all colors, nobody of any color was dead from bullets.