Just five days into 2017, the Charlotte area saw four murders, including the killing of a Kannapolis police officer's 14-year-old son as he sat in his aunt's car. Things looked dire, and they haven't gotten much better. Just a couple of weeks ago, on April 3, another 14-year-old, Taylor Smith, was shot down in a Mount Holly park. Police have charged two other teens with her murder.
"It never gets easier, especially when it's the children," Judy Williams tells CL news editor Ryan Pitkin in this issue's cover story about the folks who serve as a support system for families of murder victims.
"We've got a new generation that's starting even younger," says Williams, a co-founder of MoMO, which stands for Mothers of Murdered Offspring. "And the criminals are getting younger and younger."
At press time, the number of homicides in Charlotte this year had reached 28, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and if the murder rate continues rising, it could top 100 for the first time since the early 1990s, when murder rates in cities across the country were at record highs.
Why are more people killing each other again? If you're on the right, you may blame it on the elusive "other" (which usually just means "people who are not like me"); if you're on the left, you likely see a growing culture of hate, anger and frustration coupled with easy access to guns.
But Pitkin's story doesn't ask why or point fingers. It asks what we can do to help.
One thing we can do is support the efforts of folks like Judy Williams, who for the past 24 years has accepted the monumental task of being there for the families and friends of murder victims.
Williams, Pitkin writes, has been so busy traveling from funeral to funeral recently that she's hardly had time to rest. She and two others — her son David Howard, a former Charlotte City Council member, and Dee Sumpter — founded MoMO after Sumpter's daughter was murdered during Charlotte's deadlist year, 1993.
Williams tells Pitkin that she doesn't want supporting families of murder victims to get easier for her. "I want it to be as uncomfortable as it can get for me and everybody else I'm around," she says. "I don't want people to ease into a state of acceptance, to where we just say, 'Well, that's just life.' No, it's not."
Our hats are off to Williams and all who devote so much of their lives to helping others through the harrowing experience of losing a loved one to violence of any kind. May we all spend more of our own time doing similar service.
Not everything is doom and gloom in the Queen City, though.
For this week's arts feature, we enlisted Charlotte funnyman Carlos Valencia to pen a little lesson on how to survive a stand-up comedy tour that takes you to redneck bars in the deepest of the Deep South. (Hint: Don't ask old bikers to get up and dance.) Prepare to crack a smile or two, and maybe even LOL a few times.
In the music section, you'll see that I caught up with the experimental electronic musician Angela Saylor, who's revived the Minthill project she launched more than a decade ago when she was living in the Pacific Northwest birthplace of the riot grrrl movement, Olympia, Wash., and feeling oddly nostalgic for the Charlotte area.
Saylor reanimated her Minthill alter ego recently after she learned of the tragic death of her friend and fellow former Olympian Joey Casio, the electronic musician who died along with 36 others in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif., late last year.
In January, she organized a memorial show for the fire victims, and now Saylor, who grew up in Mint Hill, is bringing her Minthill project to two spots in Plaza Midwood in the next couple of weeks: Snug Harbor on April 18, and then the BOOM Charlotte fringe arts fest on April 29.
And speaking of BOOM, CL's Pat Moran talks to another act appearing at that festival later this month: Mall Goth, a band that blends music and over-the-top theater as seamlessly as the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Or maybe GWAR. Or maybe both.
Stay tuned to Creative Loafing for more on BOOM as we get closer to the weekend of April 28-30.
For now, let's stay in the moment, whether we're supporting the grieving families of local murder victims or experiencing the beauty and awe of local art.