MYRTLE BEACH — This resort town’s main drag is lined with pastel motels, amusement parks and kitschy pirate-ship-themed restaurants. In the largely tourist-free winter months, Myrtle Beach seems sleepy and harmless, if just a little kooky. Gun violence is certainly not what comes to mind to passing visitors. But the truth is that it’s shockingly rampant.
In fact, while Will and I watched the Republican candidates duke it out at the Convention Center, two men were shot in an attempted robbery less than ten minutes away.
A few years ago, Julia Brantley Malina’s brother was killed on his way home. An acquaintance offered him a ride and then shot him for the paycheck in his pocket. Malina’s brother never made it home to his wife and two young children.
In 2006, Barbara Hytower’s daughter, Jamilah, and her roommate, Monica Wall, were killed in their apartment. Jamilah had fallen in with a bad crowd and started dealing in drugs. According to The Sun News, the men broke in hoping to steal her stock, but shot Jamilah.
Malina explained that most of these crimes are committed by young people, and often the victim and perpetrator know each other. Disputes over drugs and robberies are exacerbated by prevalent gun ownership.
“It’s so easy, so quick to draw it,” she said.
Despite the number of violent crimes in the area (483 registered in 2011), there are few persecutions and many cases remain unsolved. Hytower says it took her two years to find justice for her daughter’s death.
These women told me about their losses and frustrations as they marched in the town’s annual Martin Luther King Day parade. Tired of the needless violence and the lack of prevention, they started a Mothers Against Violence (MVA) group here five years ago.
“Put your guns down and your peace signs up. Join the Mothers Against Violence,” they chanted as the parade wove through residential streets. The smattering of people standing on the sidewalks cheered and clapped in response.
The mothers hope to achieve prevention as well as awareness. The current president, Elizabeth Bowens — who lost her son to gun violence in 2005 — wants to combat the issue with parenting workshops. She told me many of the perpetrators come from single-parent homes and that the lack of authority and oversight has six- to eight-year-olds threatening their parents.
Bowen wants to teach people how to talk to their kids because, she says, parenting “never comes with any instructions.”