HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — For months, Pastor Kary Williams with Huntington’s Young Chapel AME Church and others have been regularly gathering for vigils and marches through the Cabell County city’s streets calling for community action to counter violence.
“The community has to get involved. We can’t just sit back and do nothing,” he said.
“If we sit back and do nothing, then it’s like a wave is just going to take us over, it’s going to flow over us and we’re just going to be consumed in the midst of it and that’s what’s happening right now.”
On Friday, the gathering from the Huntington Black Pastors Association, the Downtown Huntington Pastors Association and Mission Tri-State got additional focus because of a week that saw three murders in Huntington, taking the city’s official murder number to 19 for 2017.
It came a day after Governor Jim Justice announced the West Virginia National Guard would be supporting efforts from Huntington Police and State Police to curb the surge in violence.
“Our National Guard has resources that can absolutely combat this thing,” Justice told WSAZ Television.
Those resources could take different forms, according to Captain Holli Nelson with the West Virginia National Guard.
“What citizens of Huntington can actually expect to see is not what you would think of — soldiers standing on a street corner or checkpoints or anything like that,” she explained during an appearance on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
“Citizens may see a National Guardsmen going into a police department to help fill the role of an analyst or they might see a helicopter presence where we have National Guard supporting local law enforcement officers.”
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams has blamed a “turf war” between drug organizations for recent shootings.
For more than 20 years, the National Guard has had a counternarcotics support program.
“What they do is provide technical support to law enforcement agencies,” Nelson said. “We’re just really helping them do their jobs better.”
In Pastor Williams’ view, some of the responsibility for finding solutions falls to community members. “We’ve got to step up and do what we need to do to stop this stuff going on in our community,” the church leader said.
Ultimately, Williams said “hearts will have to change” which was the motivation for his involvement in the regular marches and vigils dating back in September.
The starting point for Friday’s 12 p.m. event was Huntington’s First Baptist Church on 6th Street followed by a march to the Huntington Police Department headquarters where prayers were to be offered for officers.
“We’ve been marching against the drugs and the violence in this community just to let the people know that we are concerned about what’s going on. We march and we pray,” Pastor Williams said.
“We believe in the power of prayer and so we want to let the people know that we are praying for our community.”