– Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023 –

Good morning. As our nation deals with the many tentacles of the gun violence issue, locally we’re looking for solutions — in politics, the justice system and mental health care.

In this week’s newsletter, we’re reporting on plans by Savannah’s mayoral candidates to address city shootings and policing plus a self-defense argument playing out in court by a man accused of shooting a teenager who was canvassing for U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. We’ll also look at how new funding for Liberty County schools could put a dent in teen suicides.

Questions, comments or story ideas? Reach out to me at jake.shore@thecurrentga.org (new email alert!).

How Savannah’s next mayor will tackle crime, policing

composite Johnson Gibson-Carter

This month, I sat down with Savannah’s mayoral candidates to talk about their plans to make the city safer. Incumbent Mayor Van Johnson, a former cop, had modest proposals for reducing crime in the city while increasing police department morale. Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter, a former social services director, centered crime reduction in addressing poverty and creating a new deal to put Savannah’s business growth back into the community.

Context: Compared to last year, violent crime in the city is down in most categories, except for aggravated assaults using firearms. Notably, homicides are at record lows in Savannah, while areas of Chatham County outside of city limits are experiencing more homicides than usual.

Insights from my interviews: Johnson leaned on his successes of increasing police officer pay, expanding surveillance technologies for police investigations and working to create a functioning citizen review committee. He spoke calmly and confidently when it came to his wins but brief moments of irritation flashed onto his face when describing his opponent’s believed flip-flops and criticisms.

Gibson-Carter was not shy when it come to her frustrations with Johnson and the current city council. She called out business trips taken by the mayor and all the ways she believed money could be better spent to boost the community’s safety. Still, some of her plans were light on specifics.

Want to be an informed voter? Start here by reading more from our story on the candidates’ public safety views.

Defendant argues self-defense in shooting

Screenshot from Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign Instagram of campaigners on Nov. 27, 2022. Credit: Instagram, Screenshot

At the height of a contentious U.S. Senate election in Georgia last year, a Savannah man shot a 15-year-old boy canvassing for Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), making national headlines. Shortly after, police charged the man, Jimmy Paiz with aggravated assault for allegedly shooting the teen from behind his front door.

According to a new court filing this month, we now know that Paiz, 44, plans to fight the charges and argue that he shot the Black 15-year-old teenager in self-defense. A Savannah Police report identified Paiz as a white male.

On Dec. 1, 2022, the canvasser knocked on Paiz’s door in the middle of the day, and Paiz did not answer, though he watched the boy on his Ring camera, the filing said. The canvasser knocked again and “appeared to rattle the door,” the filing said.

“Therefore, all manner of harm jumped into Mr. Paiz’s thoughts. Mr. Paiz had no idea whether the young person was about to enter his home to physically assault Mr. Paiz, or commit some other act of violence,” according to Paiz’s attorney’s Sept. 12 motion.

Why does this matter? The shooting highlights fraught issues of firearms use in public/private spaces and how paranoia mixed with guns can turn innocuous encounters into dangerous situations. Paiz’s attorney is also claiming protection under Georgia’s Stand Your Ground law.

In previous court filings, Paiz said he is a veteran who struggles with mental health issues. He also apologized to the boy in a letter dated three days after the shooting:

“I beg you, never, ever think that you were the victim because of who you are, your identity, your person —no! Had the events unfolded differently, you would certainly have been greeted at the door by a friend and ally, which is my lifelong shame to endure.”

We posted the court filing and letter online for public access.

Teenage suicide rates and local solutions

Firearm stock image Credit: Creative Commons

Teenage boys disproportionately make up adolescent suicides in the U.S., while firearms are playing an increasingly outsized role in those deaths, according to research from Everytown for Gun Safety, a national nonprofit that advocates for gun safety.

Boys and young men represent 80 percent of all youth suicide deaths, and almost 90 percent of all youths who die by suicide using a firearm, according to the health data between 2016 and 2020.

Firearm use is a deadlier method of suicide than used by teens in the past, and the recent boom in U.S. firearms purchases has led to more access to guns in teens’ homes, according to experts interviewed by news outlet The 19th. Additionally, young men and teenage boys are more likely to have been socialized to view seeking mental health treatment or help as a sign of weakness, according to those experts.

Suicide rates among young people are rising quickly in Georgia in the past decade, the data shows.

What can we do? One avenue is increasing funding for mental health care for young people in schools, like we saw recently with a $3.8 million grant to Liberty County schools secured by Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA). Carter’s press release said the county had the highest suicide rates in Southeast Georgia.

The services will include “implementing targeted screening to identify students in need, establishing a referral pathway to ensure students receive the necessary supports and services, providing comprehensive training and support for school staff, and implementing a family and community engagement plan to increase awareness of the impact of trauma on children and youth.”

Savannah’s would-be leaders take stands on public safety

Savannah mayoral candidates Mayor Van Johnson and Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter express their views and plans for public safety and policing should they win November’s heated city election.

Continue reading…

Data dive: How Savannah measures crime

Crime is a part of life in Savannah. But just how bad is it? The Current breaks down police data about safety in Georgia’s first city.

Continue reading…

Suicide rates of teenage boys are skyrocketing because of firearm access

Teenage boys overrepresented in statistics regarding suicides between 2018 and 2020 and firearms are a major factor, according to statistics.

Continue reading…

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Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Email him at jake.shore@thecurrentga.org Prior to joining The Current,...