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Interfaith Group Prepares to Ask Officials to Act on Housing, Gun Violence Issues

MORE Justice members gather at Reid Chapel AME Church in Columbia for pre-conference rally
Thelisha Eaddy
MORE Justice members gather at Reid Chapel AME Church

In 2018, eight police officers with the City of Columbia were trained in crisis intervention. The interfaith organization MORE Justice credits their work in getting that number close to 200. This April, the group will ask local leaders to act on solving the area's affordable housing and gun violence issues.

Earlier this month, members of the interfaith organization Midlands Organized Response for Equity and Justice (MORE Justice) met at Reid Chapel AME Church in Columbia to rally ahead of its annual conference, The Nehemiah Action Assembly. Socially distanced and wearing required masks, members listened as leaders reaffirmed the group’s purpose and chanted “what is our call? Housing for all” and “we will not rest! No more gun deaths!”

Formerly the Central Midlands Justice Ministry, the group will soon present local leaders with solutions for the affordable housing crisis and rising gun violence in Columbia and Richland County. During this meeting, group leaders will press city officials for “public commitments” to act on these issues.

During the rally, member Robynne Campbell of Rehoboth Baptist Church called the affordable housing crisis data jarring.

“There are about 1,000 families facing eviction right now from the Columbia Housing Authority.” She added “there are 16,000 families that cannot afford where they live.”

The solution the group will present on April 4 is an affordable housing trust fund.

When it comes to gun violence, member Rev. Carey Grady, pastor of Reid Chapel AME, said gun violence has gotten worse.

“In 2021, murders doubled in Richland County. Last year, gun violence went up by 29 percent in the city of Columbia while other crime rates were down,” he said.

The solution MORE Justice wants is Group Violence Intervention, or GVI. The organization says the first step to implementing this type of strategy is to conduct a comprehensive problem-solving anaysis. The cost for this is $50,000.

Co- president Rev. Jackie Utley said MORE Justice is focusing its people power to solve these community problems and hold systems accountable.

In previous years, the organization focused this power on pushing for de-escalation training for police officers. Rev. Utley calls the result of their work a win.

“Because of our push, we now have over 189 officers trained with more training classes scheduled; that’s a win for us.”

This year the group of almost 30 congregations is looking to win again.

The organization said it’s invited all public officials from Richland and Lexington Counties to attend the Nehemiah Action on April 4th said Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann and Richland County Councilmembers Overture Walker and Allison Terracio have committed to attend.

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Thelisha Eaddy
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Thelisha Eaddy is the local Morning Edition host for South Carolina Public Radio.