Viewers weigh in on Gun Violence Town Hall, solutions proposed 

Over 300 people attended a Town Hall on Gun Violence last Thursday, Feb. 15, at the Elsinore Theatre in downtown Salem. Over 750 more people streamed the event online.

Salem law enforcement, neighborhood and community leaders on the panel were asked to focus on solutions to the recent surge in shootings. The panelists were Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack, Salem-Keizer School District Security Field Coordinator Ken Ramirez, Marion County Juvenile Department Director Troy Gregg, Mano a Mano Executive Director Levi Herrera-Lopez, and Lynn Takata, chair of Northeast Neighbors.

Salem Reporter, which hosted the town hall, asked people who attended or watched online to weigh in on the community forum. Here’s what they had to say:

I was intrigued by the study commissioned by SPD and the stats. The town hall seemed to lean heavily on gun violence amongst the under 18 yo group despite it being a lower total of the results. Having worked with gang associated (Oregon Youth Authority) youth through Street Vision from 2002-2005 I became very familiar with the issue in Salem. 

What didn’t seem to be discussed was the 18 yo and up cohort. What interventions are being implemented for that group? What interventions are being used for a better system of gun control/registration?

After leaving Street Vision I was part of an agency that provided addiction/criminality programs in corrections and I also did preliminary screenings for early release. Unfortunately I saw quite a few of the youth I worked with at Street Vision in adult corrections. I retired from (Oregon State Hospital) in 2021 having worked for 10 years with forensic patients.

What am I willing to do now? Currently I am a member of the Salem Revenue Task Force to examine ways to maintain support services. However I would be interested in working with SPD to look at solutions for intervening with the 18 yo and up cohort.

Cathy van Enckevort

Trevor Womack, Salem police chief, speaks at the Town Hall on Gun Violence at Salem’s Elsinore Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2024. Ken Ramirez of the Salem-Keizer School District listens. (LAURA TESLER/Special to Salem Reporter)

My wife Paula Clarke and I were impressed by the quality and scope of the presentation by the panelists. As Trevor mentioned, having reliable information helps we as a community focus our efforts. 

We were encouraged by comments and suggestions by Ken, Lynn and Levi. Their neighborhood action plans seem practical and hopefully will be implemented with the help of City of Salem. Comments by Troy and Trevor supported their proposals.

Chris Clarke

I didn’t know about the police transparency page and I now understand and appreciate volunteers like Lynn. I live in a completely different part of Salem but may attend one of their gatherings.

Noreen Wineland

1. I was surprised the School District Security person did not talk about what threats or interventions they may have dealt with since the (school resource officers) were no longer welcome in the schools.  It seemed like he was trying to be too politically correct by avoiding any specifics.

2.  I was also surprised that the Marion County Sheriff’s Office did not have a representative on stage because much of this violence spills out into the East County geographic area.  (Maybe it was because the Gun Violence Report only looked at incidents inside the city limits.)

3.  I intend to contact the Mano a Mano person to ask him to name the unmentioned gang he thought should have been in the report, even though he acknowledged they were not involved in the gun violence report!  I’ve got some other questions of him related to the report because I sensed he felt it was biased. Furthermore, the office of Mano a Mano is near considerable continuous gang graffiti (criminal mischief) and want to see if he has influence to stop it.

4.  I intend to contact the lady from the Neighborhood Association to share information about a successful project to improve liveability in an area formerly known as Felony Flats that was conducted in the 1990’s and involved lots of public and private participation. Felony Flats was generally bounded by State Street on the north, Mission Street on the south, 25th Street to the east and 13th Street to the west.  

Hal Smith

An estimated 300 people gathered to listen to panelists at the Town Hall on Gun Violence at Salem’s Elsinore Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2024. Salem Reporter produced the event. (LAURA TESLER/Special to Salem Reporter)

I work with people (just as Levi Herrera does) who know those buying guns, who know their parents and aunts, who struggle to be resourceful enough to help their kids find other ways to problem solve around their fear and anger.

I volunteer with the Career Technical Education Center, the Behavioral Health and Human Services career track, where some of these disaffected are choosing another option: to become better educated and to be peer buddies in their high schools, with skills and a sense of hope to share with those who haven’t yet found their way.

I will continue to advocate for youth involvement in all of Community Business & Education Leaders’ activities, because (anecdotally) we’ve come to understand that the strength of families builds a sense of belonging in the community. Northgate Park is an example, where beauty and trust and safety now flourish because families are appealing to the braver angels of their struggling kids to find belonging and understanding in a less violent way.

Tim Buckley

While I understood Chief Womack’s approach with “the correct” targeted law enforcement in neighborhoods of concern, and appreciating his grasp about working with community groups on strategies  … I still feel concerned about targeting residents of color. The sting of the past is still strong in communities of color. How can we take the spirit of Womack’s remarks and instill them into a systemically militarized and historically racist organization (not SPD, but law enforcement in general).  And how can communities of color develop trust that actual systemic change will  happen in a culture where … if something doesn’t happen right away, it gets thrown out with the next political turnover.

Melanie Zermer

Levi Herrera-Lopez, executive director, Mano a Mano, speaks at the Town Hall on Gun Violence at Salem’s Elsinore Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2024. (LAURA TESLER/Special to Salem Reporter)

After watching it I discussed it with my 12 and 10 year old, as well as my husband. We volunteered with an organization in Salem that paired families in need with people able to temporarily watch their children. It wasn’t foster care. The parents chose to have us watch their kids during the day or over a course of weeks while they worked on whatever goals they set forth (drug/alcohol rehabilitation, counseling/ herapy, finding housing etc.) On paper it was a great idea, but in practice it struggled to thrive. We no longer volunteer with the organization for various reasons, but after watching the Town Hall video I feel compelled to volunteer in some capacity again with a different organization. 

I have walked with someone as they fought their way out of drug addiction and a life on the streets to full custody of all their children, a safe home, and a stable job helping others. Because that mother is healthy, her kids have a better chance at being emotionally and mentally healthy.

I know it’s possible for others to have the same success, but to do so they need support and resources. I believe that if we reduce children’s and parent’s ACE scores (Adverse Childhood Experiences) it will benefit all of us. I think getting to the parents BEFORE their children have a high ACE score is critical. Those who are thriving HAVE to help those who are struggling if any progress is to be made in Salem. We have to stop asking people, what is wrong with you? and instead ask, what has happened to you?Tell me about it. I want to hear your story. 

During the Town Hall many of the panelists mentioned the importance of listening and providing space for people to share their stories. I agree that what our community needs is more relationships, more pairing of healthy families with struggling families, more compassion, and more places where those things can take place. Thank you again for the Town Hall, which reminded me of the importance of volunteering and caring for others in our community.

Angela Rodman 

An estimated 300 people gathered to listen to panelists at the Town Hall on Gun Violence at Salem’s Elsinore Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2024. Salem Reporter produced the event. (LAURA TESLER/Special to Salem Reporter)

What we have taken away from this is that whatever the solution is to curbing gun violence in northeast Salem, it has to be multi pronged. We are willing to pay higher taxes if the city needs more money to put in street lights and sidewalks in that area of Salem. Hopefully that would make it safer and instill more pride in the neighborhood.  Murals that are colorful and represent many cultures would be worth a try also to instill pride in the neighborhood.  

We were dismayed to learn that juveniles as young as 11 have been detained due to a violent crime. We are thinking that all of the schools in that area need to have before and after school options for kids to attend that would help them make friends and have fun.  This might include open gym, arts and crafts, movies, and snacks with adult supervision that is welcoming. We are thinking that drug rehab facilities and family counselors need to put a priority on locating in northeast Salem.  Do the churches in that community reach out to families?  

Deb and Kelly Freels

Troy Gregg, director of the Marion County Juvenile Department, speaks at the Town Hall on Gun Violence at Salem’s Elsinore Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2024. (LAURA TESLER/Special to Salem Reporter)

One of the most shocking and disheartening realizations is that teenagers  getting involved in gun violence are getting younger and younger. A 12 or 11 year old? These are kids right out of elementary! Moreover, it was also disheartening that all solutions proposed are just bandaids that can only slow the growth of the problem. Predatory capitalism is a failure. The notions that if you work hard and pray to God will get you ahead in life are falsehoods. Nobody is forcing a building owner to hike the rent 20% each year, they do it because everyone else is doing it and making more money is good for them. Of course, the true beneficiaries are the people or companies that bought low and now they can charge much higher. Once a building is sold the new owners will need to continue charging the same because they bought high. And so the vicious circle begins. Housing is only one aspect of unfairness in our society, there are many others. Young people see their parents working very hard to make ends meet and understand that the rules for getting ahead in life are against them. For many young people, no amount of religion is going to pay rent or put food on the table, they don’t see anything around them that motivates them to have such faith. The root of the problems are not talked about. We can all do what we can to decelerate the trend, but the roots of the problem are national, world economic inequality practices and our inability to convince young people that we really care about their future. Getting angry and giving up is the natural consequence. 

M. Carmen Gonzalez 

One question I’d like to follow up on is the interaction of gun violence, drug usage and the impact of what happens with Measure 110.  During the town hall it was mentioned that there are only 2 facilities in the state to treat juveniles with drug problems. I’ve heard that there is currently a lack of adequate treatment locations for adults in the state. 

My question is: If 110 is changed, and many more people arrested on drug charges opt for treatment, will there be adequate funding and facilities to meet the demand? 

Dave Lindley

Lynn Takata, chair of Northeast Neighbors, speaks at the Town Hall on Gun Violence at Salem’s Elsinore Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2024. (LAURA TESLER/Special to Salem Reporter)

I’m the creative director for a non-profit based out of Salem that focuses on connecting people to marginalized communities through immersive storytelling. Our primary areas of focus are homelessness, foster care, human trafficking, and incarceration. 

The last six months, we have been working with youth in Marion County to provide them with a platform to share their life experiences growing up in some of Salem’s at-risk neighborhoods. These youth have stories participating in or instigating gang violence in Salem, being expelled from school, and just their life growing up on the streets. This was one of the more memorable quotes from an interview, “the streets was the closest thing to me in that time period. So, you know, I fell under that gang life.”

The stories have been incredible. The kids are truly great, hard working kids that just need good community and good role models. 

Bryce Funk

I walked out of the Elsinore Theatre angry at the solutions being offered. Once again, the responsibility for the choices that an individual makes are placed on the shoulders of the community, rather than on the back of the perpetrators and their families.

The solutions offered for juvenile gun crime ranged from building and staffing more community centers to give these kids something to do (shades of failed midnight basketball programs), painting murals throughout the city, or the nebulous “getting the community involved” in the lives of these youngsters.  These solutions involve “community resources”, another term for increased taxes and increased government involvement, with minimal oversight and little accountability. 

Community centers, painted murals, and more community involvement would not have saved Matthew Newman’s life.  None of it would have stopped the shooting at Fred Meyer on Market or any of the other gun violence events in Salem.

Part of the problem is that we, as a society, have allowed lawlessness to run rampant. We elect and re-elect officials who believe in cashless bail, a failed social experiment. We defund the police, then wonder why there’s so much crime. The media is filled with stories about the shoplifting situation being completely out of hand in California and New York, with no penalties for stealing less than $900 worth of merchandise. Groups of thieves swarm the exclusive stores on Chicago’s Miracle Mile and leave with thousands of dollars of expensive goods. Antifa set a police station on fire, broke store front windows, and emptied shelves – all without any arrests.  This has (been) witnessed by a public who has come to believe that they, too, can do whatever they want and not suffer the consequences. 

We must change our community and demand accountability from everyone.

J. Storm


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Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.