Middletown residents turn out for town hall to stop violence

City manager: ‘We are going to figure this out. We don’t have a choice, failure is not an option ... ‘

Residents and officials filled council chambers Tuesday night to take up Middletown City Manager Paul Lolli on a chance to talk about recent violence in the city.

What was billed as “Safer Communities for All: A Town Hall Meeting on Curbing Violence in Middletown” turned into plans for at least two community discussions before winter with the goal of “zero homicides” in Middletown, according to Lolli.

In the past two months, police have received 48 reports of shots fired in the city, many from moving vehicles and one in Douglass Park. Three resulted in homicides.

“Totally unacceptable,” said Acting Police Chief Andy Warrick. He noted, however, total “part one crimes,” including murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary and car theft, are down in 2024.

Police and city officials fear an innocent person will be hit by a stray bullet.

“We have got to hold these people accountable,” Warrick said.

“Sugar coating” the issue has been going on too long, Lolli said.

“This is a talk. It is about bringing the community together, and together coming up with solutions to stop this stuff,” he said. “We are not going to stop this with words folks. We aren’t gonna stop this with prayer. Listen, yep, prayer can and will help. I believe in God just like most of us here. But it is going to take actionable prayer, actionable words — things that change behaviors.”

Lolli said the city will reach out at the state and federal levels and look at best practices used in other communities as well as seeking out assistance from the Peace Literacy Institute.

“We demand collaboration from neighborhoods, from our businesses, from our faith organizations and those willing to stand up and work together to stop the violence,” he said noting more police officers will help, but a change in behavior has to happen. “We are going to figure this out. We don’t have a choice, failure is not an option, or we are not going to leave a very good Middletown for our children and grandchildren.”

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones and Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon were in attendance, offering any help from the county level.

“It’s pretty bad all over. It is all over the county,” Jones said. “And it’s not rocket science. Society has changed ... we have got to start working with the youth.”

Elizabeth Silas, whose nephew Benny Barefield was gunned down outside his Middletown home in 2018, pointed to a need to arrest and keep repeat offenders behind bars. Barefield’s homicide remains unsolved, but arrests were made then charges dropped after a grand jury did not return indictments. One suspect is now dead, the victim a homicide, and another was recently arrested on a robbery charge.

“You have some of the same individuals involved in these robberies, that are involved in these home invasions, involved in these murders, and they may be incarcerated for a short period of time ... but some of these same individuals are wreaking havoc not just in Middletown, but throughout Cincinnati, throughout Hamilton … some of these same individuals are still on the street,” Silas said.

Ruth Kelly, president of the Middletown Area Ministerial Alliance said, “We are doing effective, intentional prayer in the alliance.”

Beginning in August, the alliance will be going out into every street where there is a church to pray, she said.

“We all need to be involved to make a change in the violence here in Middletown,” Kelly said. “Even if you don’t believe, we can still go out together to make a difference. Until we start showing up in the streets speaking to young people, adults, everyone, there will not be a change in this city. The alliance stands behind everyone here.”

Resident Angela Holbrook told the crowd of a faith-based event planned for June 23 in Douglass Park, “Taking Back Our Streets.” It will offer testimonials, food and music centered around standing up to gun violence and drug addiction.

All city council members were in attendance, but it was not a council meeting, and they did not speak.

Lolli said council and staff would glean what citizens had to say and develop a plan of action and perhaps a task force. He said he decided to hold quarterly town hall meetings with the next one scheduled for Sept 24.

About the Author