EDITOR’S NOTE: Join us for community forum on Salem’s gun violence

Through the spring months last year, an unsettling trend emerged in Salem.

Reports of violence seemed to become more prevalent – tied to guns.

People were getting killed or sent to the hospital in grave condition.

Gunfire erupted on neighborhood streets. Everyone in the cars or on foot scattered before police could respond.

Residents were finding bullet holes in their walls and in their vehicles.

Late in the year, the Salem Police Department confirmed what our reporters had sensed.

Police officials shared a report showing an alarming rise in gun violence.

The analysis was fat with numbers.

They showed how those involved in gangs were responsible for much of it.

That teenagers increasingly were pulling the trigger.

And that northeast Salem was bearing the brunt.

Now, we want to put faces behind those numbers and help the community determine what to do about it.

Salem Reporter is hosting a Town Hall on Gun Violence. The event, free, will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17, at the Elsinore Theatre in downtown. You can get your free ticket now through the Elsinore.

We have two goals.

First, we want the community to fully understand this threat to safety.

Second, we want to share how you and other citizens can be part of the response.

We want every person leaving the Town Hall to feel better informed. More importantly, we want them to feel that they can act.

To pull this off, we have assembled a panel of local experts.

You’ll hear directly from Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack. He’ll describe candidly what his officers face out on the streets.

We have Troy Gregg from the Marion County Juvenile Department and Mike Runyon of the Oregon Youth Authority, experts to tell you how juveniles are getting tangled up in this violence.

Ken Ramirez from the Salem-Keizer School District will share in blunt terms how this is emerging as a challenge for teachers, principals and other school employees.

The executive director of  Mano a Mano, Levi Herrera-Lopez, will tell us what conditions in the community lead to young people engaging in violence.

And we’re arranging for you to hear the voices of young men caught up in the street battles. You will be riveted by their accounts.

We’re still working on the program. When we started this work, we were determined to give a voice to victims and survivors. Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson has a unit devoted to tending to victims. The district attorney decided not to help, explaining, 

“We typically don’t refer victims to a public panel when we don’t know the context of what is being discussed.”

Still, we’re hoping to connect with a victim or survivor willing to be part of our program. That voice deserves to be heard. (If you can help, reach me by email: [email protected])

We are working with community partners to arrange for real-time translation into Spanish with listening devices provided for audience members.

You might feel this doesn’t have much to do with you if you’re not in a part of town under fire.

Reconsider that.

This violence puts a big segment of our community at risk. Truly innocent people are suffering.

The costs of this surge are huge.

We all share the burden of medical treatment for victims.

We all pay the costs of finding and prosecuting those behind the gun. We pay still more to hold them in custody and then to keep an eye on them once freed.

But we’re not conducting a Town Hall to have you wring your hands and then go home.

We are asking our experts to share one or two ways that any individual, any civic group can help.

We’re assembling a handout listing such ideas: How You Can Help.

And, of course, we’ll allow you to pose questions, which our journalists will present live to the panelists.

Acting together, citizens and government, we have a better chance of checking this before it grows worse.

To start, join us at the Town Hall. Without you, the challenge will be harder to address and take longer to resolve.

–Les Zaitz, editor

PS: If you would like to help with costs of this major event, donate $100 or any sum to our News Fund. 

STORY TIP OR IDEA? Send an email to Salem Reporter’s news team: [email protected].

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Les Zaitz is editor and CEO of Salem Reporter. He co-founded the news organization in 2018. He has been a journalist in Oregon for nearly 50 years in both daily and community newspapers and digital news services. He is nationally recognized for his commitment to local journalism. He also is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon.