MANSFIELD, Ohio — “I believe that we live in one of the greatest cities in this entire country. But it takes the community to have a unified voice,” said Rev. Dr. Derek J. Williams of Mount Calvary Baptist Church on Friday at the Mend Mansfield press conference.
The Mend Mansfield Coalition met at the Renaissance Theater to announce the "Unity in the Community Rally and March Against Gun Violence" on Saturday, April 11.
The rally will begin at 12 p.m. at the Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Mansfield. Participants in the rally are then encouraged to march to Johns Park, the location of Mansfield’s most recent shooting.
The press conference was facilitated by Williams and Mansfield Chief of Police Ken Coontz. Also participating were Richland County Sheriff Steve Sheldon and members of the U.S. Marshall's Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force.
“It takes us, as a unified community, to come together and organize ourselves,” said Williams. “We are here to make an everlasting impact in Mansfield.”
The coalition of numerous organizations and churches in Richland County banded together recently in response to shootings that happened in a 48-hour span. Chief Coontz referenced Mansfield Police Department’s (MPD) crime statistics from 2014, a reminder that the violent events the community experienced do not stand alone.
According to MPD’s statistics from 2014, the city of Mansfield experienced a 7.5 percent increase in violent crimes. These include homicide, rape, robbery and assault.
“Things that really alarm me is when I look down at robberies and rapes. I’m proud to say that many of those are solved rapes, many of those are solved robberies. At the same time, I’m so disappointed and hurt to look at this,” said Coontz.
According to the department’s statistics, the MPD responded to 54 rapes in 2014 compared to 49 in 2013. There were 94 robberies in 2014 compared to 92 in 2013.
“We want to be part of the solution to making law enforcement what it used to be — where it used to be revered and looked up to,” said Coontz. He said the rally on Saturday will be a step in that direction.
Other speakers included Mayor of Shelby Steve Schag, Mayor of Mansfield Tim Theaker and Councilman Don Bryant. Each touched on the importance of realizing this as a county-wide initiative, not just Mansfield.
“This is not just Mansfield’s problem. It’s an epidemic in the United States, all around. Like Dr. Williams said, we have to stand up and be the first city to stand up against crime. And I think that we will. We need to do this,” said Theaker.
In addition to uniting all organizations, Coontz and Williams stressed the importance of uniting the churches in Mansfield.
“I truly believe that if you want anything to be successful, bring God into it. If you want your life to be successful, if you want your community to be successful, bring God into it,” said Coontz.
“We’re just excited about what is about to happen by way of our law enforcement, our public officials, and our private sector, and our clergymen come together to make a difference … The time is now that we make a difference for the betterment of our future and our children,” concluded Williams.
Coontz and Williams urged community members to participate in Saturday’s "Unity in the Community Rally and March Against Gun Violence."
Mount Calvary Baptist Church is located at 343 North Main Street, Mansfield. During the march, rides will be available for handicapped attendees.