Rash of shootings in past week leads to police, community groups vowing to combat violence

Rash of shootings in past week leads to police, community groups vowing to combat violence
World-Herald News Service

A remarkable 125-day, homicide-free streak in Omaha ended on Jan. 20, when the city’s first killing of the year happened.

This week, there were two more slayings within two days — prompting calls from police officials and community members to quell the gun violence before it gets worse.

In three days, from Sunday to Tuesday, five shootings ended with six victims, two of whom have died. In the entire last three months of 2018, there were 11 shootings with 12 victims, and no one was killed.

“You’re going to have spikes in violent crime, no matter how hard the intervention and prevention, no matter how hard the enforcement efforts,” Omaha Police Deputy Chief Ken Kanger said. “We’re always trying to stay on top of it so these outbreaks don’t happen.”

Kanger said that most of the recent shootings are not related and that the two recent homicides are separate gang-related shootings.

The department classifies a shooting as gang-related if either the victims or the shooters have ties to gangs.

Robert Williams Jr., 28, was killed Sunday near 2412 Cuming St. Wallace T. Hubbard III, 25, has been charged with first-degree murder and was ordered held without bail Friday. A prosecutor said Williams was at Hubbard’s home for a Super Bowl party.

Other guests had left, and Williams told them that Hubbard was going to kill him. A minute later, he called the friends and said he had been shot and needed a ride to the hospital, where he later died. Hubbard’s children, ages 5 and 6, witnessed the shooting, the prosecutor said.

Elijah Foster, 18, was fatally shot near 47th Street and Ellison Avenue on Tuesday night. No one has been arrested in that slaying.

Activity on social media can heighten tensions or create feuds between gangs, Kanger said, and oftentimes has been the source of spikes in violence. Someone may put a post on social media that unknowingly signals to rival gangs the location of a person, creating an easy target.

“It’s more apt for people who don’t like you to show up at your location,” said Ricky Smith, the director of Omaha 360, part of the Empowerment Network.

When officers or community members see the provoking posts, they try to contact those gang members through the Police Department’s gang prevention specialist or other organizations to promote a message of nonviolence.

Smith works as a liaison between the Police Department and family members who have lost loved ones to violence or know people in gang circles. The goal is to keep the lines of communication open between law enforcement and people affected by violence to gather information and offer resources for those in need.

For example, Smith said, the Step-Up Omaha summer jobs program for youths began accepting applications Monday, and he’s trying to spread the word so young people have positive opportunities.

Kanger said the city’s recent record-breaking streak without a homicide has helped reinforce a community culture that won’t stand for violence being committed by a few individuals. People are more apt to cooperate with police when they know that their tips can turn into arrests and lower crime, he said.

“If you have a series of incidents that continue to happen over and over again, sometimes people can get used to the violent crime,” Kanger said. “Because we’ve been so blessed in the reductions of crime, people want to maintain those streaks of no homicides and a low number of shootings because that’s the culture people want to see in our city.”

Smith said he’s not overly worried about the recent uptick in violence because he feels confident in the positive relationship with police and the prevention work organizations are doing.

“Omaha is on such a great downward trend that when two or three things happen, it seems huge, but it’s really not, compared to Chicago or other big cities,” he said. “It’s Omaha — a good life, a great place to raise a family. When those things happen, it seems like a knee-jerk reaction … but we just have to keep doing what we’re doing.”