Friday, June 19, 2015

TOP STORY >> Clergy mourn attack

Leader staff writer

Twenty-two people gathered Thursday night at Evangelistic Ministries Church in Jacksonville to “intercede in prayer” for the families of nine victims killed Wednesday in the Charleston, S.C., shooting.

Rev. James Bolden, who leads Evangelistic Ministries and is also an alderman, said he prayed for strength after hearing about the tragedy that took place during a Bible study at a historically black church in South Carolina.

The alleged shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, was charged on Friday with nine counts of murder and one count of possessing a weapon. Officials are calling the incident a hate crime.

Gwendolyn Harper, president of the Jacksonville NAACP, said Thursday that the country was still working through the initial shock.

“Of course, we feel that it’s deplorable; it’s just deplorable,” she told The Leader.

Harper expects that people in that area will address problems once the shock has passed. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems here. We don’t know people’s hearts.”

Her advice for preventing and learning from the tragedy is to figure out how to be vigilant. “The world is the same, but it’s not the same…There is a lot of mental illness going on besides a lot of hatred.”

Bolden said a task force of people from white churches, black churches and people from all races should come together and work to prevent tragedies like this one and address racism in that area. He emphasized the need for “unity in Christ.”

Bolden said, “Older people need to stop polluting the younger people…Racism is learned in families.”

The reverend pointed out that babies of all races could be placed in a room and would play with each other. He argued that parents teach racism to children.

Bolden said a shooting like the one in South Carolina could happen anywhere, but people should feel comfortable in church. He suggested that houses of worship form security teams for protection.

The incident also launched some discussion of mental- health reform. The reverend said people must learn the signs displayed by someone who may need help.

Bolden also said, despite people rallying for more gun control, he supports the right to carry as guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

Pastor Craig Collier of Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church, Jacksonville’s oldest and largest African-American church, did not return a call from The Leader seeking comment on the shooting by press time.

The state is already forging ahead on a solution to mental health issues here.

On Thursday, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel presented a report to state legislators on the potential benefits of mental-health reform for the prison system, according to a news release.

It says the report suggests that people with mental illness be sent to crisis centers rather than jails that could provide better care while alleviating prison overcrowding and saving the state close to $140 million a year.

State Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) and Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe), although they didn’t specifically mention mental health in their columns this week, wrote about the need for prison reforms.

Bill Kopsky, executive director of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, said in a news release that the proposed crisis centers are “far less expensive, more humane, more effective and safer than simply sending people with mental issues to prison.

“Arkansas has thousands of prisoners with mental-health issues. Sending these people to treatment allows the system to focus resources on those who are true threats to society.”

According to the release, the report projects the costs of one year’s services at a crisis center at $10 million versus $150 million for incarceration. It also states Medicaid would cover $2 million to $3 million for the next several years so that Arkansas would pay about $7.5 million to provide better services for the mentally ill.

“The initial findings are so overwhelmingly positive. Arkansas must follow up with more detailed analysis,” Kopsky said in the release.