Community Works to Take Back the Streets in Salisbury - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Community Works to Take Back the Streets in Salisbury

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(Photo: WBOC) (Photo: WBOC)

SALISBURY, Md.- For Fruitland's Shanell Johnson, the last three weeks have been perhaps the hardest three weeks of her life.

"To lose Rakim is very devastating for all of us," she told WBOC. "Just a missing part of us here. but we're holding on to each other and holding onto God, and we're just going to continue to love each other, and honor Rakim's love that he had for all of us."

Those are the words of a grieving mother, still trying to come to grips with what she calls the senseless loss of her 17-year-old son Rakim Russell.  He was killed in the early morning hours on Sunday, Aug. 1 by a stray bullet. He was an innocent bystander attending a party at the America Best Value Inn on North Salisbury Boulevard in Salisbury.

"[He was] just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It can't be anything more than that," Johnson said.

Three young African American males have been charged in the death of Russell, who was just weeks away from starting his senior year at Wicomico High School. Just a day later, another black man, 21-year old Dommeir Deshields, was shot and killed in broad daylight on a Salisbury street.

Two homicides in two days prompted some in the city of Salisbury to say that it is time for the black community to rise up, and not rely on the police to stop these killings. 

One such voice was from local a local pastor, Dr. Thomas Tucker.

"Our community needs to step up and do some policing of its own and start putting people on the spot," he said. "And our people involved in these discrepancies, and these outrages need to grow up." 

WBOC spoke with some residents in Salisbury's Doverdale neighborhood who had strong opinions on this issue of the black community policing its own. Nahum Petion believes he knows why it doesn't happen. 

"They (members of the black community) feel like if they get involved then they put themselves in danger," he said. "If the city, the police department, others could assure those people more protection, and if they were more involved in what's going on in the community, then it would be easier to help solve those problems."

Community activist and youth basketball coach, Jermichael Mitchell sort of agrees.

"You see in movies and hip-hop, they talk about killing people for snitching. That's a stereotype in our community," he said. "Some people believe in that stereotype at times. So that one of the reasons why our community doesn't come forth. but there are opportunities and times when our community has come forth, and have convicted the right people. so we can't say that stereotype always exists."

Mitchell should know. A Salisbury native and member of the 2002 Wi-Hi Boys state championship basketball team, he is giving his life and time to helping shape young people.  This summer alone he is coaching and encouraging five youth basketball teams. 

And he's not alone in trying to change what's happening. Tom Bunting, senior pastor at Emmanuel Wesleyan Church, and the Rev. Mark Thompson, believe it's not a black problem, or a white, Latino or Asian problem. They say it's a community problem.

"Whether it be churches, schools, provide opportunities to work along with them," Thompson said. "Not giving them programs, but work along with them on her's how your raise a child. Here's how you provide structure at a young age. and that will start to change the tide of what you're seeing with all this violence and things happening on the street." 

Bunting believes everyone in Salisbury needs to pitch in to help. He said Emmanuel Wesleyan has started a program called "Adopt a Block."

"We want to help them. We pick up trash in the neighborhood, we try to help them in mentoring, and the drugs is so bad, we try to help them in that area too," Bunting said. 

Mitchell said that while coaching basketball, he mentors youth on being good people and staying away from trouble. He believes that is one of the things members of the black community can do.

"Through education, through the churches, through every opportunity we can enrich these lives. In fact, we have to," he said. 

As for Shanell Johnson, she hopes her son Rakim's death is not in vain.

"Losing Rakim is heartbreaking," he said. "But I'm just saying if one soul can be saved, it will show young people that life isn't promised."

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