Officials: Ring in New Year with bells, not bullets

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Dantay Latham says he’ll forever be haunted by the senseless killing of his grandmother, Sandra Latham, who was struck by stray bullets while sitting at the dining room table inside her home on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s something that I’ll never erase from my mind. It changed my entire life,” said Latham, who was 10 when his grandmother was killed. “She got shot, stood up and fell down to the ground.”

“I think about my grandmother every day,” added Latham, now 29. “I miss her so much. It still hurts.”

Latham recounted his grandmother’s death Monday during a news conference at Plymouth United Church of Christ hosted by the Rev. Nicholas Hood III.

Now in its 18th year, Hood’s campaign “Ring in the New Year with a Bell, Not a Bang,” launched the year after Latham’s 1996 killing to curb gunfire on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s really time to turn the corner to a whole new chapter to Detroit,” Hood said. “How do we end the violence?”

The message comes after the Christmas Eve slaying of a local musician and the fatal shooting of a 7-year-old girl late Sunday.

The city’s homicide total for 2015 is close to the total number of killings last year, which ranked the lowest for the city since 1967. As of Sunday, there had been at least 292 homicides in Detroit, the same as during the same period in 2014. A flurry of killings in late December drove the number up, the city’s police chief has said.

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon has joined Hood’s effort each year and as a resident says he’s noticed a reduction in the amount of shootings that occur on New Year’s Eve.

“I’ve seen personally the results of this effort. It’s a valiant effort and one that is definitely worthwhile as we attempt to make sure that no one dies again on New Year’s Eve as a result of a shooting,” he said. “When you shoot a projectile up into the air, it absolutely comes down. And it comes down with a velocity that can kill.”

Napoleon said firing a weapon into the air is a misdemeanor offense. Detroit Police Chief James Craig, he added, has directed officers to make arrests if it is determined that someone has fired a weapon.

The sheriff on Monday said his department and Detroit Police don’t have the resources to put extra officers on the streets. His own department, he noted, is short about 200 officers. He currently has about 830 positions filled. He says funding is allocated to fill the jobs, but nominal pay and a rigorous hiring process create challenges.

Conrad Mallett Jr., chief administrative officer of the Detroit Medical Center, also spoke out against the violence that he says is creating a “health issue” in the region and throughout the country.

“Any opportunity that we have to send a message that guns should not be fired for any reason whatsoever is an important occasion,” he said. “If we can reduce gun violence on any one day, that day becomes critically important.”

Mallett condemned the “senseless violence” in recent days, including Sunday’s killing of the 7-year-old girl on Steel near McNichols and the Lodge Freeway. Separately, Anthony Tolson, a 33-year-old musician, was shot after playing at a church on Christmas Eve.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “We don’t need to shoot a gun for any reason.”

Staff writer George Hunter contributed.