Troy Williams: How we all can help curb the Fayetteville murder rate

The Fayetteville Observer
The Fayetteville Observer

In the mid-1980s, when I was still in law enforcement, former Fayetteville Police Sgt. Edgar Merritt and I arrested two men in Campbell Terrace off Old Wilmington Road for dealing drugs. The suspects were driving a BMW with Washington, D.C., license tags. We also recovered a handgun used in a double-homicide, and Merritt and I became key witnesses in a month-long murder trial in Washington.

Because the suspects were gang members and threats had been made against our lives, we were under the protective custody of the homicide squad for about 30 days. What I recall most about that time was D.C.'s murder rate spiraling out of control. Despite being the headquarters of multiple federal law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, DEA and ATF, the drug epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s led to significant increases in crime, and the number of homicides peaked at 482 in 1991. The city became known as the “murder capital” of the United States.

Washington D.C's murder problem occurred over 30 years ago. I could not have imagined that Fayetteville would now be facing a similar challenge.

Last weekend, a presumably gang-related shooting in a highly visible public area off Owen Drive resulted in three deaths and two injuries. The Fayetteville Police Department disclosed that there were 48 homicides in the city in 2021. The numbers are startling. 2021 ushered in a 50% increase in homicides, and we are off to a bad start this year.

Let's be clear; this is not a police problem alone. It's a community problem that demands a community solution. Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins and the other members of the Fayetteville Police Department cannot arrest their way out of this. However, she does acknowledge that homicides are up across the nation, and the FPD works hard to solve murders with a clearance rate above the national average.

The tremendous increase in the murder rate is difficult to ignore. Now is the time if there was ever a time for the Fayetteville City Council to flex their political muscle and do something. The murder rate in Fayetteville has doubled in the last three years.

There are powerful institutional and fraternal voices in our community that can support a community-wide strategy to end these rampant shootings. Other communities have overcome similar problems, and so can we.

Faith leaders have a long history of combining religious duties with social activism. The faith community can and should provide critical leadership concerning this issue. They are driven by a sense of ethical obligation and concern for the safety of their communities.

In the end, we are all essential stakeholders. The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) partners with the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and connects communities to the resources available from state, local and federal organizations. Grant funding and other resources are available to help us keep our community safe.

Finally, when drug dealers and gang members resolve their differences with “street justice,” we all lose, especially when innocent bystanders are injured or killed. It's a complicated picture.

While our nation seeks meaningful criminal justice reform, murder rates are skyrocketing, and people don't feel safe walking the streets anymore. Can we afford to be light on violent crime? I don't think we can, and we cannot make excuses for bad behavior. Being poor is not an excuse to become a murderer. There aren't shortcuts to success — staying in school, getting an education, becoming an entrepreneur, or getting a job and working for someone else should be the ultimate goal.

There's a lot that needs to happen in 2022. Curbing the murder rate should be the No. 1 priority.

Troy Williams is a member of The Fayetteville Observer Community Advisory Board. He is a legal analyst and criminal defense investigator. Williams also does a weekly podcast, RUD:Educate, with Fayetteville City Councilwoman Tisha Waddell and former N.C. Rep. Elmer Floyd. He can be reached at

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