PALMETTO -- Prompted by the worst mass shooting in Manatee County history, County Commissioner Michael Gallen is organizing a “violent crime task force,” which he hopes will “deal with issues of violence, and the fear of speaking out against the violence.”
It’s one of several new proposals prompted by the Sept. 10 mass shooting at Club Elite, which killed two people and wounded 22 more.
Gallen says the task force will be comprised of city officials from Bradenton and Palmetto, county commissioners, school board members, law enforcement and other community leaders.
He is organizing the group along with Bradenton’s Ward 5 Councilman Harold Byrd Jr.
Gallen says the task force will “encourage the community to be strong and act like a community, and not become fearful.”
“We need to become partners with police,” he said. “That’s the problem right now, the whole ‘snitches get stitches’ thing.”
Byrd says he and Gallen attempted to form a similar group in the past, after noticing an increasing trend of violent crime in various communities.
“We have to look at the urgency of the moment now,” Byrd said. “Right now we have a crime that’s been committed, the most violent I’ve seen, and I’ve been here 50 years. We need to do whatever we can do to bring people together and let them know that if they come forward, they don’t have to fear retaliation.”
Reaction from law enforcement to the task force was swift and positive.
“I think it’s great,” said Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dave Bristow. “We’ve said over and over we need community involvement to fight the issue of violence. It’s obviously going to take much more than law enforcement. The sheriff has been pushing that for some time -- community involvement.”
Bristow compared the reaction caused by the Club Elite tragedy with what the community went through in mid-2007, after 9-year-old Stacy Williams III was killed in a random gang shooting on Fifth Street West.
“Then the community rallied hard,” Bristow said. “We see that happening now.”
Palmetto Police spokesman Lt. Scott Tyler, too, reacted positively to the proposal.
“Whatever they need, we’re all for it,” Tyler said. “We’re for anything with a productive outcome, whether it’s city or county government.”
People continue to come forward to speak to Palmetto detectives about the shooting.
“We’re hoping the momentum stays the same, or picks up,” Tyler said.
Gallen stressed the task force is still in the planning stages. It will, however, focus on youth.
“It’s a challenging issue and a complex issue,” he said. “Coming in as a commissioner, as a teacher, research has shown why children take this path. There are three risk factors: physiology, community and family. My goal is to have every child busy. If they’re not at home with their family, they’re in some summer or after-school program. That would be the goal one day.”
Manatee County School Board President Bob Gause said he’s happy to help.
“We’ll do whatever we can,” he said. “We have to recognize that we as a community have to take this community back.”
Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant’s administration has reached out to the University of South Florida for help through its Kingian Non Violence Seminars, which will hosted by the Palmetto Police Department and funded with community policing funds provided by the Community Redevelopment Authority.
CRA Director Jeff Burton said the Kingian Seminars, which are based on the work of Martin Luther King Jr., will put community leaders in two days of core meetings.
“The training is to promote the non-violent principals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” he said. “The scope is public officials, nonprofits and faith-based organizations.”
The seminars will be held on two Saturdays, Oct. 29 and Nov. 5.
Although most of the participants will be invited by the Palmetto Mayor’s Office, there will be a waiting list. Others interested in attending should call Bryant’s office at (941) 723-4570 for more information.
There are other approaches in the works, too.
The Rev. Cory Brinson of Spiritual House of Praise in Palmetto has asked 35 local ministers to join him at 4 p.m. Monday at Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Bradenton for a conference about the recent violence.
Brinson’s sister-in-law, Gwenette Latrice Matthews, was killed in the barrage of gunfire at Club Elite.
The meeting is open to the public.
“First of all, we are going to be dealing with our accountability to God and to one another as ministers and our accountability to the community,” Brinson said.
Brinson plans to ask fellow ministers to discuss their programs for youth and share what is working -- and what isn’t -- toward getting youth on constructive paths.
“Those youth who really don’t want to be rehabilitated and want to continue doing these crimes must be dealt with,” Brinson said. “We will work with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to get them off the streets.”
Brinson hopes his meeting will produce a strategy sheet that he can later share with law enforcement and others for getting gun violence under control.
“We all have room for improvement,” Brinson said. “As we work collectively, our main concerns will be humanity and the safety of the community. We want to make sure the monies that our county has allocated for certain things are getting done. Those include proper lighting, and proper policing.
“We know not everyone is going to church. Some people go to clubs. We want to make sure club owners are accountable for security,” Brinson said.
“In essence, everyone has to take a look at their own accountability. That’s what this meeting is about.”
For more information, Brinson can be reached at (941) 405-2418.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686. Lee Williams, Herald investigative reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7041.