After a late-morning shooting that took the life of a teenager, community members gathered on Castle Street Sunday evening for a candlelight vigil to remember the victim and speak out against violence.
“We need to take a stand against this violence that’s affecting our community,” Kevin Spears, the event’s organizer, said. “We can’t be on the fence about this. We need to do something.”
Spears, who grew up in Wilmington, said he remembers a time when “it was a safer place.”
“This is a small group of people making our town look horrible,” Spears said to the crowd of about 30 people, who met outside the house where Sunday morning’s shooting took place.
Also present was Vern Ross, the father of Shane Simpson, the teenager killed Sunday morning.
“I had to be out here,” an emotional Ross said of finding the strength to be present at the place where his son lost his life. “I had to be here for my son.”
“He was a good kid – he had a good mother, a good upbringing, was a good student,” Ross added, saying Simpson lived on 11th Street just south of Castle and attended New Hanover High School. “He just got caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
When he spoke to the crowd, Ross stressed that the community needed to join together and help police rather than taking it upon themselves to get justice.
“‘Vengeance is mine, says the Lord,'” Ross said, quoting the Bible. “This is my block … but there will be no retaliation from me.
“We’re hoping that Wilmington’s finest will get these guys,” Ross continued. “I pray that we all join together in unity. I pray that no one else is lost. We’ve got to stop this.”
Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous and several police officers also attended the vigil to show solidarity with the citizens.
“It is important that we all pull together. We’re all tired of this,” Evangelous told the crowd. “Please, let’s work together to stop this senseless gun violence.”
Spears, a long-time friend of Ross who is running for the New Hanover County Board of Education in the March primary, said that he and other community members have been working with law enforcement and other leaders to bridge the gap between public safety officers and residents.
“I think with everything going on in the country with the police violence with black males and black people – we’re so quick to react to that, and I guess it kind of gives the impression that we’re okay with black-on-black violence, and we’re not,” Spears said. “I asked for us to stand together to show that we denounce black-on-black violence. We denounce all violence, but we definitely are not accepting black-on-black violence.”
While the vigil didn’t attract the thousand people that Spears hoped for when he put the call out on social media Sunday afternoon, Spears was glad that several dozen community members, including law enforcement officials and N.C. District 18 House of Representatives Member Susi Hamilton, showed up. To him, it showed the community is fed up with the shootings and willing to do something about it.
“A lot of people aren’t here that need to be here,” Spears said. “They don’t want to hear this. But we’re tired of the violence.
“This is our stand against what’s going on in Wilmington.”