CINCINNATI -- We are better than this.
Ours should not a community where gunfire erupts at nightclubs or little girls die after being shot in their own homes.
But gun violence has plagued our community since the year began, from the fatal shooting of 9-year-old Alexandrea Thompson on Jan. 18 to the mass shooting at Cameo Night Club over the weekend that left 27-year-old O'Bryan Spikes dead and 16 others injured.
It's been so bad this year that community activists have been worried a large-scale shooting like the one at Cameo was bound to happen, Pastor Ennis Tait told me. He said it's long past time for the community to come together to stop the violence -- and heal.
"We have to work on reversing the spirit of fear in this city," said Tait, executive director of Project Nehemiah Cease Fire, which has been working for years to reduce gun violence in the city.
"The community people who are going to be involved in this are living in fear," he said. "And we have to change that."
There will be a vigil starting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the East End nightclub, designed to bring people together in prayer.
"We depend on God to make it better. But God works through people," said Tait, pastor of the Church of the Living God in Avondale. "While we're praying for the community, we're also praying that people will get enough courage to get a voice."
Since the shooting this weekend, community leaders and the police have called on witnesses to come forward and identify the person or people who opened fire inside the crowded nightclub.
Tait said fear stops people from doing that because of worries that there will be retaliation against them or their family members.
Looking ahead to summer
But Mitchell Morris said there are other reasons, too.
Sometimes people won't talk because they plan to seek vengeance, he said. Morris, a recruiter for Cincinnati Works and a volunteer with Project Nehemiah, tries to stop that from happening by talking directly to the family members of victims and convincing them to let the police handle matters instead.
There also is a pervasive "no snitching" culture that keeps people quiet, Morris said, adding that he thinks the idea behind the "no snitching" rule has become warped.
"It's not like you and this guy ran in and did a robbery, and you get caught and you're telling on him. That's snitching," he said. "When you're standing outside and you see an innocent bystander get shot, that's not being a snitch. That's being a responsible citizen."
Tait said the community must step up its prevention efforts and work directly with young people to stop gun violence before it starts.
"These kids are approaching summer, and we know already what happens during the summer," he said. "If the energy is this high in March, just imagine what it could be like in June."
Project Nehemiah Cease Fire already has been working with three schools in Avondale and Over-the-Rhine to teach kids that violence isn't the way to solve their disputes.
Mitchell is confident that those efforts and others can make the difference our city desperately needs.
"If enough good people come out, I think we're going to be able to get a handle on this stuff," he said. "We have to keep supporting these families. We just try to let them know they're not in this thing by themselves."
Maybe the more we know we can lean on each other, the more likely we'll be to watch each other's backs and make sure the people who pull these triggers are stopped before they hurt someone again.
For WCPO's complete coverage on the Cameo nightclub shooting, visit wcpo.com/cameo.
More information about Project Nehemiah is available online.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.