ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — In a house of God and under a prayer, members of the St. Petersburg community came together Tuesday to talk about gun violence.
"If the community continues to ignore the issue, then the issue will continue to persist and fester like a blister," said local advocate Corey Givens Jr.
St. Pete has seen 28 homicides this year, the highest number in the last decade.
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"We can't arrest our way out of this problem. Everybody says that, but we can't do that," said St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway.
St. Pete police say many of those deaths have been due to shootings.
An incredible display of compassion was the first lesson that panelists Maress Scott and Nikkie Davenport provided as a key takeaway.
Both have lost sons in shootings. Maress' son, Marquis, was shot and killed in 2019 while riding a bike. Maress has since started working to end gun violence in the community.
Davenport's son, Dominique Harris, has been linked to the death of Maress' son.
"I can see her through her pain and I can recognize that and that was horrible for me to recognize that loss and that pain," said Scott.
"I was looking at the biggest picture and that biggest picture was to get that voice out there for my son. To help anyone that's going through that. That it's okay to forgive, not forget, but forgive," said Davenport.
Davenport's position on that panel was also remarkable because she sat feet away from Holloway. She has been critical of the St. Petersburg Police Department after her son was killed in a police shooting in 2020.
Harris was hit with at least 30 bullets while officers tried to pull him out of a car and arrest him. St. Pete police say he refused to get out of the car and shot at one of the responding officers.
When it comes to other solutions to curbing gun violence, Scott says it starts with mentorship.
"What we have to do is choose a young person and start to develop a relationship with them," he said.
Chief Holloway says stopping the violence starts with responsible gun ownership. According to him, many of the guns in these shootings have been stolen from unlocked cars in the area. He says at least 50 guns are stolen from cars each month. That said, Holloway also added we have to check in with the next generation to learn why they feel the need to use guns in this way.
"We need to listen to what these children are dealing with," he said.
Mental Health Clinician, Dr. Brittany Peters, LSCW says there need to be healthier outlets for emotions.
"They tend to get into situations that they can't navigate in safe ways," she said.
And as the group pushes for these changes, Scott leaves this message for those doing the shooting.
"They're hurting the people they're hurting, they're hurting their families, but they're also hurting their [own] families as well," he said.
And this isn't the end to these conversations, leaders tell ABC Action News this is a series as they work to process trauma following gun violence.