By Ed Brock
The very process of entering the "Silence the Violence" rally on Saturday emphasized the need for some sort of action against gun crimes in Clayton County.
As troops of teen-agers filed into the Skate Zone roller skating rink in Morrow where the rally was held, each one had to pass an inspection by security guards in black uniforms who waved metal detecting wands over each teen before letting them through the door.
The rally was intended in part to be a fund raiser for the "Clayton County Gun Buy Back Program" headed by Bob Hartley. Hartley is a concerned parent and a member of the Ministers Action Outreach who started the gun buy back program in response to several recent shootings that took the lives of local teens like Larry Bishop, Jr. and Crystal Williams. Both died in shootings that took place on one weekend at separate parties in April.
"(The rally) is not just an event, it's an ongoing movement that's getting kicked off tonight," Hartley said.
The rally also included a pledge by the young people in attendance to remain violence free as well as gift giveaways, a talent show and performances by 80 Babies recording artist J Jucka.
Anissa McClure, 33, drove all the way from Wedowee, Alabama so her 12-year-old daughter could participate in the talent show. She liked the idea of the rally.
"The younger they are knowing the violence and getting them used to non-violence, the better off they'll be," McClure said.
Kyle Price, 15, of Stockbridge said he had come to the Skate Zone for another reason that night, mainly to meet the girls who had to wait in a separate line from the boys. But he was more than happy to take the pledge to stay violence free that was the focus of the night's rally.
"It'll solve a whole bunch of conflicts up here and they'll keep this place open," Price said.
Over in the girls' line, 14-year-old Jamye Bennett and her friend 15-year-old Mia Blacke-Jones, both from Morrow, also didn't know the rally was going on. Bennett was slightly less optimistic about the problem of youth violence.
"It's a problem but we can't do nothing about it," Bennett said.
Other people have criticized Hartley's gun buy back idea after he made it public, saying it would be ineffective in taking guns from real criminals and might encourage some people to steal guns to sell at the program. During the gun buy back, scheduled for Aug. 6, Hartley plans to offer $50, no questions asked, for any operable gun.
The guns will be handed over to the Clayton County Sheriff's Office to check whether they are stolen or have been used in a crime, then they will be disposed of.
"You get that type of criticism at every gun buy back," Hartley said. "I've had parents come up to me and say they'd found a gun in their son's room and this seems like the responsible way to get rid of it."
Sammie Rice, a partner in the gun buy-back program, said they didn't expect people with "high end" guns to bring them in.
"We're trying to get rid of the ones a little 4-year-old might get access to," Rice said.
Hartley said Saturday's rally raised $270.
Hartley's initial goal is to take 1,000 guns off the streets, requiring him to raise $50,000. Donations can be made at any Suntrust Bank to the Clayton County Gun Buy Back Fund.
Sponsors of the rally on Saturday included Kinko's on Mt. Zion Road in Morrow and Tara Schwinn in Jonesboro.