Shots Fired: Understanding Gun Violence in Mansfield

This is the first installment in a nine-part series focused on gun violence and possible ideas to address this issue in Mansfield. These stories will run on consecutive days starting Oct. 8 and running through Oct. 16.

MANSFIELD — Deanna West-Torrence doesn’t flinch when asked if shots fired in Mansfield today come from guns that community disinvestment in the north end helped to load more than a decade ago.

The founder and executive director of the North End Community Improvement Collaborative said she doesn’t know why more is not being done to address societal and economic issues she believes have helped contribute to a rising tide of gun violence in the city.

“I think in a lot of ways (disinvestment) certainly helped. I think our refusal to come to grips and to really examine what is creating these issues has not helped,” said West-Torrence, the impetus behind the nine-part Richland Source series, “Shots Fired: Understanding Gun Violence in Mansfield,” which begins today.

The Mansfield community has seen eight gun homicides in 2023, the highest number in more than a decade. Most have involved the killing of young, Black males. The series will look at various causes, and potential solutions.

But West-Torrence, a Mansfield native who graduated from Malabar High School, sees a strong connection between the disinvestment in the north end and the homicides and crime that have followed.

“I just think it’s a psychological thing. Schools and good things are elsewhere (in the city). ‘I get bussed to that. I have to be taken to that.’

“You can do as much development, as much housing, as much of anything as you want. But as long as these things exists, the killing or being killed, as long as that exists, it’s going to trump everything else. It’s going to be above your headline on the SEO search,” West-Torrence said.

“It’s happening in the same places among the same people,” West-Torrence said.

The nine-part series will investigate ideas to address this issue in Mansfield, including causes, impacts, and potential solutions by looking at various programs locally and in other parts of the country.

‘It’s like a recipe … we baked all this stuff in’

West-Torrence, who raised four children as a single mom in Mansfield, said the city has unfortunately done it to itself.

“It’s like a recipe. We baked all of this stuff in. We put in all of the ingredients, like disinvesting, closing schools. We did all of the things to make what we have now.

“It’s cause-and-effect. We did these things. We have caused all these things to happen. All we have to do to stop it from happening is figure out how not to do that and do something else.

“This blatant denial of things is just the most hurtful and harmful thing to the community when people act like this stuff doesn’t exist,” she said.

Focused on north-end issues

West-Torrence has worked on north-end issues most of her life, including time on Mansfield City Council, the Mansfield City School Board, the Ocie Hill Community Center and the Community Health Access Project.

It would be hard to find a board or organization on which West-Torrence has not served over the years. But 16 years ago, she made the decision to focus almost all of her attention on the city’s north side.

In 2007, West-Torrence and other residents and community leaders applied their collective experience and founded the NECIC. The organization’s mission is to improve the quality of life and economic landscape of the north end community.

She has seen the disinvestment on the city’s northside up close. Regaining that investment has not been easy.

The Ocie Hill Neighborhood Center was closed in 2020 during the pandemic and never reopened. It’s now been torn down.

There are no school buildings left open on the north end.

There is a lack of health care facilities and grocery stores.

There has been tremendous progress made on the north end in terms of removing blight through home demolition projects through the city and the Richland County Land Bank.

But there has been little built to take its place.

NECIC working on new community center

West-Torrence and her NECIC team are working to raise millions for a new north end community center at a site the organization owns on Springmill Street.

The City of Mansfield has pledged $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds toward the project. But the deadlines assigned to the federal funds make that contribution difficult if organizers cannot raise the remainder of the money.

Richland County commissioners discussed contributing as much as $2 million to the effort from the county’s ARPA funds. But two members of the three-member panel ultimately decided against it.

West-Torrence said NECIC leaders are looking at national funding sources for the project. She said the center represents more than just a building.

“The building itself is not what’s important. It’s the lessons. There’s some little kid that’s going to be 5 or 6 years old when that building is constructed. He is going to speak throughout his life of the impacts of things that happened there.

‘I took a music class there. We used to watch movies there. I learned how to box there. My doctor was there. I went to counseling there. My mom was able to go there and get help paying our electric bill. My grandparents went to the elder program there.’

“This is a building that will help build people’s lives. I don’t think people look at it like that,” West-Torrence said.

In search of solutions

West-Torrence and the NECIC have made great strides to provide assistance and create opportunities in the north end in the last 16 years.

She believes that work can be improved by local governments and other organizations partnering and helping organizations and groups doing the work in the community.

“The challenge for public officials when they get a pot of money, like they did, is to figure out ‘What are the issues that we know we’re working with?’ And then. ‘Who can we partner our dollars with that can help us work through that?’

She is hopeful the Richland Source series will generate community attention to the gun violence problem, an awareness that will create the kind of conversations and discussions that lead to solutions.

“We need to assure personal worth and dignity regardless of what street you live on in Mansfield and Richland County,” West-Torrence said.

“We want the same things for everyone. The cards are so stacked against (the north end). Regardless of data that you can show people, they just refuse to look at it.”

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when...