'Enough is enough,' Pontiac residents say in wake of deadly drive-by

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Pontiac — The chorus of voices rang loudly Wednesday night: "Forever seven!"

Dozens of residents who attended a town hall meeting focused on curbing violence in the city paused to underscore why such a gathering is significant.

Five days earlier, a 7-year-old girl, Ariah Jackson, died in a drive-by shooting while returning home from school.

The officials, activists, religious leaders and supporters at the panel described her death as a turning point.

"Enough is enough," said Rahim Harris, who leads Pontiac Universal Crimes. "... She didn’t deserve this."

Tim Greimel

Exploring ways to prevent such conflict in the Oakland County community anchored the discussion Pontiac Mayor Tim Greimel convened at the Robert Bowens Senior Center 

Participants included grassroots groups and others with programs or ongoing efforts to help neighborhood residents. 

From stronger ties with city leadership to calling on locals to reach out to law enforcement, they repeatedly stressed the bloodshed was unacceptable.

"We’re desperately in need of a radical change," said Deleah Sharp, executive director at the Identify Your Dreams Foundation, which provides grief support.

City Council President Pro Tem William Carrington added: "It’s an emergency in our community. This city has been in mourning too long."

The meeting allowed community group leaders to describe their work on the ground as well as field questions about how to reduce the violence.

Greimel, who was elected in November, told the audience his administration has been forming an anti-violence commission.

As another option to boost the community, he said his team was working to find a permanent location for a youth recreation site. A proposal is slated to be presented to the City Council by June.

"This is long, long overdue," the mayor said.

Greimel added there are ongoing talks about de-escalation classes, helping former felons, redeveloping shuttered schools and ties to the Oakland County Sheriff's Office.

But he said the work to reduce violence was needed at the street level and among all residents "to put these great ideas into action."

Dozens attended the town hall Wednesday at a Pontiac center.

Community organizer Tameka Ramsey, who helped spearhead the discussion, called on residents to stop fearing the label "snitching" to report crimes to law enforcement. 

"We have to start holding each other accountable," she said.

Much of the talk turned to last week's tragedy.

The Oakland County Sheriff's Office reported Ariah Jackson was struck in the back of the head while sitting in a parked car with her mother and three other children around 4:50 p.m. Friday.

Deputies rushed Ariah to the hospital in a patrol car and she was pronounced dead soon after, police said. The mother was injured when a bullet grazed her head but declined treatment at the hospital. Three other girls, ages 6, 7, and 11, were not injured.

Detectives said they have identified at least one person of interest in the shooting. They have asked anyone with information to come forward.

“This tragedy underscores the urgent need to confront violent crime in our community,” Greimel said in a statement Tuesday. “Our children and families deserve safety and security, and we are committed to ensuring that this kind of extreme violence stops now.”

Another drive-by shooting was reported in the city on St. Patrick's Day that left a partygoer wounded.

Several speakers noted Pontiac has long witnessed gunfire.

Samino Scott, executive director for the Pontiac Collective Impact Partnership, said a close friend was fatally shot while driving in the 1990s. 

Scott described himself as a delinquent at the time but the death "changed my life forever," he said.

Meaningful approaches to citywide conflict do not have to start broadly, Scott said. "We have to think about what each one of us can do."

Pastor Douglas Jones, president of the Oakland County Ministerial Fellowship, said one way to address violence is to treat each act with the same attention.

"A drive-by in any neighborhood is a drive-by in every neighborhood," he said to applause. 

Perry Earl Jr., another resident, suggested more opportunities for youth. "We need more for these kids to do."

The chance to talk about the issue of violence drew attendees such as Theresa Lee, a lifelong Pontiac resident.

"Information is power," she said. "I believe the community is tired of this violence."