Everyone must be part of the solution

By the Rev. Melvin Whitley

Durham Herald-Sun - February 22, 2012

Gun violence must be stopped, and everyone needs to be part of the solution. I strongly support Mayor Bill Bell’s initiative to reduce gun violence by increasing the bail bond on individuals who discharge a gun in the commission of a crime.

The current guidelines for the magistrates are ineffective at protecting the public. When an individual is arrested for discharging a firearm in the commission of a crime, the magistrate is first in the line to determine the bond amount. That amount must comply with the bond guidelines, and we need to alter those guidelines so that the bond amount is proportionate to the crime committed. At present the amount is not proportionate, and it’s too easy for persons accused of violent crimes involving guns to make bail and put the public further at risk.

Defense lawyers play a role in this problem by always asking for a lower bond regardless of the alleged crime and working to convince a judge that the lower amount is appropriate. They will tell us the main purpose of bail is to ensure that defendants show up for trial. The truth is bail can be denied in certain non¬capital cases based upon a finding of substantial likelihood of harm to others. When the facts are evident or the presumption great, bail may be denied in the following instances; in felony cases involving acts of violence, or felony sexual assault offenses on another person, if the court finds on clear and convincing evidence that there is a substantial likelihood that the release of the accused would result in great bodily harm to others. When an individual fires a gun in public doing a criminal act, that individual has met the criteria for using a high bond as a restraint.

I would love to ask defense lawyers, judges and magistrates to live in my community, where gunfire is common. We hear shots fired and instantly asked the question: Will the next round come in my home, damage my property, or, worse, hurt someone I love and care about? Something is wrong when an individual arrested for gun violence is back in our neighborhood before the police report is written.

I for one believe that anyone that makes a decision to take a gun to commit a crime needs to be separated from the rest of us. They have exhibited behavior that they can be harmful to others.

The current guidelines must be altered to protect the public and bonds set in direct proportion of the crime committed. Gun violence must be stopped and everyone should be part of the solution.

Melvin Whitley is president and on the board of directors of Action NC, Herald-Sun - Everyone must be part of the solution