A pastor who has been outspoken about the number of killings in Birmingham is asking Mayor Randall Woodfin to declare a state of emergency in the city.
The Rev. Paul Hollman of Mount Mariah Baptist Church on Monday delivered a letter to the mayor asking him to put an emergency plan into action. “These violent killings and the devastation they cause for the families and our community are a virus in our city and we must stop it before another person is deadly affected,’’ Hollman wrote in the letter.
The letter points out that 449 people have died in homicides since the beginning of 2017. “Killings in Birmingham have continued to be out of control and unacceptable,’’ he wrote.
“We delivered this letter in peace and love,’’ Hollman said at a Monday press conference. “We want to meet with you, mayor, before somebody else gets killed.”
Hollman said he has not yet received a response, but said he is hopeful that will come soon. A spokesman for the mayor said the mayor addressed his thoughts on violence in the city at a joint press conference held last week with Police Chief Patrick Smith.
Birmingham finished 2020 with 122 homicides. Of those, 15 were ruled justifiable and one accidental and therefore not deemed criminal. The city experienced one homicide a day in the first three days of the new year. Hollman held his press conference just feet from where a 56-year-old homeless man was killed Saturday in Linn Park. Flowers marked the spot where the man was slain.
Hollman spearheaded a billboard effort in 2020 in which the digital billboards throughout the city are updated immediately once a homicide is confirmed and read, “Stop the Killings Birmingham.” He said he came up with the idea following the Sept. 13 shooting death of 71-year-old Javanna Cotton “Midge” Owens, a member of Hollman’s church. “It was just devastating,’’ Hollman said. “When they killed her, it got a lot of people upset.”
Hollman last week unveiled new billboards for 2021, which read “Let’s Build. Not Kill! Reset 2021. He pointed out the 122 homicides in Birmingham in 2020 – the highest in the past 25 years – and that three people have been killed in the first three days of the new year.
“We need federal, state, county and city resources. We need the mayor to use all of his contacts, and he has many from the city all the way up to the White House, to bring all those forces together,’’ he said. “If we can’t get it done by ourselves, then let’s say we need some help.”
“If this was a policeman that had killed one person, the whole world would be in Birmingham trying to stop it,’’ he said. “Now, that people are killing people, we need to take that same action and let the whole world come in here and stop it.”
Hollman said the city also needs to partner with local nonprofit grief counseling agencies to assist families of victims killed in violence with the intent to reduce the retaliation rate. “No one is there to care for them and taken through this,’’ he said. “It’s one thing for a family to experience death but when it’s a violent death, we believe families should have someone there for grief counseling.
Hollman, who has launched Citizens Against Killings, introduced the idea of CHILL stations throughout the city. His vision calls for police officers, psychologists, mental health therapists and de-escalation specialist under one roof as a place someone can go before their frustration turns into violence.
“The mayor said in his press conference ‘we can’t do this alone, we need help’’’ Hollman said. “I believe there’s some more help available. If we get the help, we wouldn’t have a person being killed every day. We need to make sure we’re doing all we can do.”