Cocoa councilwoman's push to stop young violence goes viral

Councilwoman Blanco urges parents to get involved

COCOA, Fla. – After two shootings in only the first week of July involving young people, Cocoa District 4 Councilwoman Jeri Blanco posted a video on Facebook.

"It saddens and frightens me to think of an innocent bystander killed by these incidents," Blanco says in the video. "I urge you to get involved in your children's lives, especially if you have teenaged children. Know where your children hang out; know who they hang out with."

As of Wednesday, Blanco’s video reached almost 50,000 people and has been viewed more than 5,000 times.

Police said after the video, they received several tips on the July shootings.

“Just by the fact it's viewed so many times, that message must be resonating with them in some way," Blanco said. "I think they're hearing the message, just wondering ‘Where can we go and what can we do."

One of the shooting happened in the Sav-A-Lot parking lot on Dixon Boulevard. A 16-year-old was shot. The other was at the Village Green apartments, also on Dixon Boulevard, where two young men were hit.

Reggie Huffman, a Brevard County native and father of a 2-year-old girl, has lived at Village Green for five years.

Huffman said parents and grandparents are involved as much as possible.

"They can only do so much," Huffman said. "And if the leaders ain't backing them up, ain't nothing really they can do. They got no playground for the kids to play (on), nothing."

In her video, Blanco pointed to the Boys & Girls Club on Dixon Boulevard, the Cocoa Police Athletic League and activities at the Cocoa Parks & Recreation Department.

"I say reach out to the Police Department or to the city itself," Blanco said. "Let us know what type of resource help you need. We are here for you."

One comment on Facebook blamed police, not parents, for a lack of police resources and an "overwhelming" drug problem.

"Personally, I feel like you could have a hundred police officers on the force, but that's not all that it's going to take," Blanco said in response. "Start teaching them morals and values that you may have grown up with, the difference between right and wrong."

"It is a long-term approach," Cocoa police spokesperson Yvonne Martinez told News 6. "You can't just throw police at a problem. You have to invest in building relationships."

Martinez said since that Mike Cantaloupe became police chief and implemented a community-policing strategy, crime in Cocoa has dropped slightly. 

"The interactions we have are positive," she said. "We feel like we are making a difference but it's one day at a time, one person at a time. 

Huffman admitted his neighbors are hesitant to talk to police for fear of unwanted attention.

Calvin Crawford, a grandfather who helps take care of his two young grandchildren at Village Green, said people are afraid of causing trouble for themselves.

"People know you by what you say and what you do," Crawford said. "And if you go around telling what somebody does around this place here, it's not going to make it nice for you or your kids either."

Martinez said the department is working to overcome that.

"It's still a very difficult culture to change where they don't want to talk to police, where they don't want to be seen talking to the police," Martinez said. "We are here to listen, our No. 1 purpose is to serve and protect the citizens.”

Martinez said it’s also up to the community to take action.

“At some point people have take personal responsibility for their safety and quality of life in their community,” she said. “We can only do so much. But we are willing to listen and work with the community so we can get results."

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