DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Durham Mayor Elaine O’Neal had a message Monday evening: don’t expect her to speak publicly anytime soon on gun violence in the city.
Her comments came during a virtual city council meeting, after a weekend where five victims were wounded in two shootings – with two 25-year-old men dead.
O’Neal said she is working hard to curb gun violence in the city, but Monday said sharing too much about her work publicly would put that work at risk.
“You will probably hear some of them [reporters] saying, ‘She can’t be reached’ or ‘She won’t comment,’ and I won’t ever,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal’s explanation of why she will not be speaking about publicly gun violence prevention efforts were her most in-depth comments on the subject since Dec. 13, when she spoke at a city and county news conference following the shooting of six young people.
Then, O’Neal called on members of the Durham community to get involved in the effort to prevent violence – urging able citizens to volunteer.
“Law enforcement and government cannot tackle this issue alone,” O’Neal said in December.
Since then, the city has seen a continued wave of gun violence, though.
Numbers released to CBS 17 by Durham police earlier this month showed 80 shootings in 2022 as of Feb. 5. Records kept by CBS 17 show at least nine victims wounded by gunfire since Feb. 5.
During that time, CBS 17 has made numerous attempts to get in touch with O’Neal about gun violence prevention methods. She has not agreed to any interviews during that time.
Speaking at a city council Monday evening, O’Neal said she’s one of multiple people in the community working as part of the violence-prevention strategy to forge “fragile” relationships with people who she said do not trust government.
“If your streets are silent, you can see the work that is being done,” O’Neal said. “It’s a very fragile relationship that we are trying to build with some young men and young women who are trying to turn their lives around.”
Durham city council member Leonardo Williams did agree to an interview with CBS 17 before Monday evening’s meeting.
Calling the latest gun violence in the city “insanity,” he said he has seen improved community engagement in tackling the gun violence concerns since December. But he admitted, a lot of the work is taking place out of the public eye.
“Ask the mayor about public safety, she will tell you the revolution will not be televised,” Williams quipped to CBS 17’s Sean Cudahy, quickly pointing out that O’Neal is spending “at least 15 to 20 hours per week underground” working to forge relationships in hopes of preventing violence.
“That is good work,” Williams said. “That is the real work.”
Williams characterized gun violence prevention as a multi-faceted approach, starting with an immediate need to keep people “occupied.”
“The ‘right now’ work is basically, making sure people are occupied in a very positive and active way in the community,” he explained.
Williams pointed to a need for broader solutions to truly tackle the problem. He pointed out, city council recently gave pay raises to the city’s police and fire departments. He stressed a need for the council to act further to make improvements when it comes to after-school programs, extended school days, jobs, transportation, and affordable housing.
“Historically, I think we expected seven (city leaders) to get the job done,” he said. “But we have 320,000-plus partners in the city.”
O’Neal made similar comments during her remarks at city council Monday evening, as she again called on members of the community to get involved.
“(The problem) is not going to be solved any other way than addressing basic housing needs and basic job needs,” she said. “And so I’m trying to do that.”
Will O’Neal ever address the work she is doing in hopes of preventing gun violence? She hinted at potential future comments, but made clear those remarks would be further down the road, after, she said, she continued building relationships in the community – “so people feel we are not just using this as a political opportunity or a talking point.”