Longer park hours, video games among ideas to reduce Richland County gun violence


Could keeping parks open longer and creating video game leagues help keep young people in the Midlands safer from gun violence? Local recreation and law enforcement leaders are hoping solutions such as these and others can help address a growing problem.


Wednesday, Richland County Recreation Commission Executive Director Lakita Watson met with a team of police chiefs and the county sheriff at a recreation center on Parklane Road to come up with ideas on how the commission can help slow the rise in shootings in Richland County.


“We want to work together with our public safety officials to ensure our young people have safe places to go and positive experiences,” Watson said, standing by the police chiefs of Columbia, Forest Acres, Irmo, Chapin and Cayce as well as Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.


Among the ideas were extending park hours, creating video game leagues, offering music, arts and fashion experiences and having more mentors.


The meeting was a first step in a “long-term commitment” to helping find solutions to issues facing Richland County, Watson said.


But before most of that work begins, the commission is going to gather a team of young people to give the commission ideas about what will get their peers into the parks and recreation centers. Watson called this a “youth council.” Listening to youth will be key in the commissions new push to get kids away from guns, she said.


What was cool for her in her youth “may not be as cool in 2022,” Watson said.


Lott said the solution can’t be all sports. The county needs other attractions for young people.


One issue keeping youth away from parks and recreation centers is a lack of transportation, as the group discussed. Finding partners to get young people to recreation centers will be part of the plan to help reduce gun violence, Watson said.


Gun violence is disproportionately killing Black teenagers and young men, and they’re at greater risk of becoming shooters in Richland County, which has prompted communities groups to come together for solutions, The State reported Wednesday. Lott said the recreation commission is part of the community solution to the gun violence problem.


“We got to change the minds and hearts … of young people and their parents,” Lott said. Watson said she was a living example that recreation centers and services can save young people. She grew up in a neighborhood much like the ones in Richland County, she said. “Knowing that recreation saved my life, I’m full, all in for doing whatever we can as a commission,” she said.