Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Yellow crime scene tape scattered around a playground set for children. A sickening photograph of a reprehensible crime on the front page of your morning newspaper.
The headline is even more alarming — “Shooting injures three at city playground.” Thankfully, none of those injured last week were actually children.
But the unconscionable crime has shattered a sense of safety in a community whose residents thought it was safe for their children to play in the playground. This act of violence — an argument that police say began on Facebook before spilling out on the East River Playground on Augusta Street — is senseless.
School is out. Kids are at home. Children are supposed to feel safe in their neighborhoods. A playground should be considered sacred ground.
How did this happen? And how can we as a community respond? What can we do to assure parents that their community playgrounds are safe?
Playgrounds are for children, not a young adult with a weapon. They are not places to settle arguments with firearms in the middle of the night. From this point forward, additional patrols and an increased police presence should be a given in city parks and playgrounds — day and night.
A neighborhood patrol also would help. And concerned citizens who witness suspicious individuals or suspicious activity in their neighborhoods should immediately contact police. And the police should respond to the complaint in a prompt fashion.
Bluefield City Manager Jim Ferguson says everything that can be done to keep city playgrounds safe will be done. He says the East River Playground is closed at 9 p.m. and no one should be on the property after that. But adults with bad intentions were on the property after normal operating hours last week. The rules were not enforced.
In addition to increased patrols and a greater police presence at all city playgrounds, Ferguson also wants to increase lighting in some of the playgrounds and parks.
But we must do more to restore the sense of safety that was shattered by last week’s incident. It will take time. And it will take everyone working together. The police. The city administration. And the neighborhood residents.
If playgrounds must be secured with a fence or gate after regular operating hours, then so be it.
If it takes hourly patrols — both day and night — then let’s do it.
If it takes foot or bike patrols by officers to secure the safety of our parks and playgrounds, then so be it.
If it takes the formation of a new neighborhood watch — with participation and support from city hall and the police department — then let’s do it.
If laws regarding criminal activity in playgrounds, schools and parks are not tough enough, let’s strengthen them.
Nothing should be more important than the safety of our children. And a playground must be a safe place for our children.
And those who violate that sacred trust must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
If our communities — and our own playgrounds — are not safe, how can we expect to grow? How can we expect to attract new jobs, and new families, to our region? One despicable act can cause long-lasting harm to a community.