Homicides in Escambia County and the city of Pensacola come in streaks. Most are either tied to drugs or domestic violence. Many of them are in the African-American community. This year the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office has dealt with six confirmed homicides.
On June 16, area ministers called a press conference to say the street violence must end. Unlike past such events held by various groups, the ministers did not point fingers at law enforcement or local officials. These men had buried too many young men over the past several years. They asked the community to come together and help them end these shootings.
“We all play a part,” said Bishop Charles Young, senior pastor of Deliverance Tabernacle Christian Center Church. “It’s time we work together, be responsible and take responsibility ourselves.”
The impetus for the meeting was the shooting death of Shaquille Purifoy on Friday, June 13. Purifoy played football and basketball for Commissioner Lumon May in the Southern Youth Sports Association. He graduated from Pine Forest High School and was in contention for a starting running back position in his upcoming sophomore season at Grambling State University.
Purifoy was one of at least six young black men that have been killed in the past few years that played for May. The commissioner took the death hard.
“Shaq was a great kid. He was the fastest athlete I had ever seen and had a great attitude,” May said. “If we become immune to feeling pain because of the background and where these boys are from, then that’s a sad assessment of our community.”
Robert Gross and his son, Shaquille Purifoy, spoke for about 20 minutes that Friday night. The 20-year-old Shaquille wished his dad a “Happy Father’s Day.”
Gross asked him if that meant he wasn’t going to see him Sunday? “No, dad, I just wanted to tell you today,” Shaquille answered.
Gross received that call at 7:17 p.m. his cell phone shows. At 7:50 p.m., Gross got another call. His son had been shot and rushed to Sacred Heart Hospital where he would die Saturday.
“I know some good is going to come out of this,” Gross said. “God just has not revealed it yet. He was a good son, the kind every family should have.”
Purifoy’s death may be a turning point. The solutions for these killings aren’t simple. The ministers are correct. These deaths are a community problem that will take our governments, schools and businesses working together to solve. The effort must be consistent and persistent.
Let’s hope we can figure it out…together.