National Action Network launches Lancaster chapter after rash of deadly shootings

Laverne McGriff is the mother of two Lancaster men recently shot to death in Charlotte.
Laverne McGriff is the mother of two Lancaster men recently shot to death in Charlotte. aburriss@heraldonline.com

Less than a week after her sons were gunned down in south Charlotte, Laverne McGriff is setting out to keep other parents from undertaking the painful task of planning funerals for their children.

McGriff spoke Tuesday at a news conference held by the newly formed Lancaster chapter of the National Action Network civil rights group, which was launched in response to a recent string of shooting deaths in the area.

McGriff’s sons, 29-year-old Naquivs Benson and 28-year-old Jarvis Mandrell Benson, and their friend Javarius McGee, were found shot to death in a home on China Grove Church Road in south Charlotte near the state line Friday. Both the Benson brothers were Lancaster natives.

Authorities in Charlotte and Lancaster are investigating whether the killings are related to the Nov. 28 unsolved killing of Carlos Antonio Massey in Lancaster. Massey was a friend of the victims in Friday’s triple homicide that remains unsolved.

“They may be young or old, but they’re still their mother’s child,” said McGriff, who on Tuesday lamented that so many young men are growing up without fathers or positive male role models in their lives.

“They’re allowing the world and the street to teach them how to be a man,” she said. “They’re not being taught. ... What are you doing when you see that little child is going astray? Somebody’s got to reach out their hand and say, ‘I can help you. Let me show you the way. This is not the right way.’”

Tuesday’s news conference kicked off the Lancaster chapter of the National Action Network, which was founded in 1991 by the Rev. Al Sharpton in New York City. Kim Cunningham, president of the Lancaster chapter, said they are building the chapter through membership enrollment and have a list of issues they want to address in 2016, including voter education, educational issues in the Lancaster County school district and violence in the area.

Cunningham said she’s been in contact with Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile and Lancaster Police Chief Harlean Carter, both of whom are on board to work with the group.

One issue the network targets is black-on-black crime, which is an “epidemic” around South Carolina and the rest of the nation, said James Johnson, state coordinator for the National Action Network. The violence, he said, is fueled in part by illegal guns on the streets and problems in the education system.

“A conversation must be had about the number of black males that’s dying across the state of South Carolina,” he said. “Those illegal guns can be had for $40. When we put guns in the community and we throw drugs behind it, we have a war.”

Johnson said state coordinators in the network will ask Gov. Nikki Haley and local law enforcement to step up efforts to keep guns from ending up on the streets and in the hands of criminals.

Lucille Puckett, a Charlotte representative of the National Action Network, said change has to start on the individual level.

“It starts with us in our neighborhoods,” she said. “We can’t expect the governor to do it; it’s going to take us. We say, ‘Black lives matter, black lives matter’ – black lives have to matter to us as blacks, as African-Americans. It’s not the Caucasians, it’s not the Hispanics. It’s blacks killing blacks.”

McGriff implored parents to be more involved in their children’s lives, and for people to take more of an interest in their neighbors’ lives.

“I agree, it’s not a black thing or a white thing, but it bothers me as a mother to see so many young black men dying and so many young black women raising boys by themselves, not knowing what to do,” she said. “Guys tell them in the street, ‘This is what you need to do.’”

“We shall overcome,” she said. “But, we’ve got to work together as a team, as a body.”

Johnson echoed McGriff’s sentiments, and said network representatives will meet later this month to further develop a plan of action. Early next year, he said, members will start talking with families they see in the community to remind parents to talk with their children about the dangers of guns and drugs.

“We don’t know who we talk to that it may deter them from shooting somebody,” he said. “It may sink into their brain.”

Teddy Kulmala: 803-329-4082, @teddy_kulmala