Grassroots efforts to reduce homicides in Mecklenburg County

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Every year dozens of people are killed in Charlotte due to violent crimes. Some cases are solved, others remain under investigation, and some run cold.

But one thing that does not change is the fact that a family loses a loved one - and some of them use their experience of loss to help others who are going through the same thing.

"We try to put them in order as best we can, but these are people... all of them," said Judy Williams, who heads up Mothers of Murdered OffSpring - or "MOMO" - as she showed a photographic tapestry of tragedy that honors the departed.

Focusing on lives lost to violent crimes is an unbridled passion for Williams.

"We want to put a face on the pain that comes with the loss of every loved one," she explained.

The mosaic of faces, which are mostly black and clearly young, all share the common thread of leaving this earth much too soon.

"Violence starts in the mind," Williams said. "If we don't effect the mind, we don't affect the mind. Nothing changes."

Twenty-four years ago, MOMO started with its signature candlelight vigils and balloon releases. Like the victims they remember, these rituals number in the hundreds.

"We're giving out hope. We're letting people know we love them," Williams said.

Community advocate Robbie Harrison has been on the receiving end of that hope and love.

"I'm grateful that I went through the experience, that I went through because it has gotten me to the place that I'm in today," Harrison said.

Her son, Payton Robinson, was killed more than two decades ago. His face is among the more than 700 images making up the MOMO display. His mother's anger has been transformed into positive energy by lending support to the activities carried out by the community organization.

"Losing my child brought me to a different place and a better place than I would be in today had I not gone through," Harrison said.

Talk to experts and they will tell you that grassroots organizations do make a difference as it relates to curbing violence. On one hand, they educate and engage a community, and on the flipside, their exercises offer and outreach provide moments of prevention.

"We need those grassroots organizations to come out and support us," said retired CMPD Detective Gary McFadden, who recalls how the nation's crack epidemic during the 1980s pushed the local homicide rate well beyond 100.

During recent years, those figures were cut in half, but an alarming trend is underway when you consider the following numbers. Last year, Charlotte recorded 67 murders, but for the first nine months of this year, the number was 69.

"We haven't gotten to the point where we are telling people how to solve or settle their differences," McFadden said. "We've got to find ways to sit and talk things out."

Successful conflict resolution may have reduced the number of new headshots in MOMO's display.

"The jails being full and running over shows us that people don't get away with it," Williams said.

As she continues fighting, honoring, and working, she offers a realization. She contends homicide leads to two places - jail for the assailant, and the cemetery for victims of these heinous crimes.

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