Crime Task Force Starts With Crime Stats
40 people begin work on Savannah’s Public Safety Study Task Force as it seeks to cope with staggering young black male crime figures.
Scott M. Larson, SavannahNOW.com, May 28
Roddrick Marshall sat quietly writing as Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson unveiled the staggeringly disproportionate number of black male homicide victims and perpetrators.
“I thought it would have been a little bit more than that,” he said.
Since 2002, 71 percent of people murdered and 90 percent of those arrested in Savannah were black males.
Maybe Marshall, a 29-year-old black man, could have been one of them. He was arrested five times on auto theft charges and spent three and a half years in prison. He was on a bad path.
But Thursday night at the Savannah Civic Center, Marshall was as an example of what can go wrong — and what can go right. He’s one of 40 people on Savannah’s Public Safety Study Task Force, charged with critiquing the entire criminal justice system.
“I’m hoping that we can ask serious questions of some of these agencies,” said Marshall, who now has a steady job and mentors to youth in the system. “They are used to running things their way.”
During the first meeting of the task force, young black males took center stage.
“We’ve got a problem and this problem is primarily in the black community,” Johnson said. “This is a black problem because we are both the victims and the perpetrators and we have to do something about it.”
Why such a problem with young black males? That is one of the things this task force was charged with answering in the year it has to operate.
Poverty and racism exist, Johnson said.
“But it cannot be an excuse,” he said.
Black crime statistics weren’t the only problem discussed. Police presented statistics showing that downtown areas lead in violent crimes while southside areas have more property crimes.
Johnson walked around the room with the task force sitting around him like he was back teaching at Savannah State University.
An audience member leaned over to another and said: “No one has ever been this frank about crime.”
The brainchild of Johnson during last year’s mayoral election, Johnson sped up its formation after a spate of high-profile crimes. Savannah City Council members submitted nominations and the task force’s makeup was supposed to reflect the community.
There was little back-and-forth discussion during this first meeting as Johnson laid out the plans and formation of the group. A five-person steering committee will lead and members will join subcommittees addressing police, juvenile justice, courts and prosecution, prison and probation and re-entry into the community after prison.
In the end, the group, which will meet every two weeks, will recommend goals and strategies for each area.