Posted on June 21, 2023

A Navy Base Put Up a Wall to Ward Off Stray Bullets. Locals Say That’s Not Enough to Solve Gun Violence.

Bracey Harris, NBC, June 18, 2023

More than 20 shipping containers line the south side of a Navy base in Gulfport, Mississippi. They’re not there to transport goods, but instead stand as a silent marker of the gun violence afflicting the state’s second-largest city.

The hulking boxes were put in place last fall, after gunfire at a subsidized apartment complex across the street damaged five homes inside the Naval Construction Battalion Center; no one was hurt. The base responded by increasing patrols around its perimeter and making one of the most fortified areas of Gulfport even more so.

“The optics of that are very bad,” said John Whitfield, a pastor and the CEO of Climb CDC, a nearby nonprofit focusing on workforce development. “The practicality of it, I understand.”

A spokesperson at the base said the barrier is meant to be a “temporary solution” and that the city had offered assurances that it was addressing the gun violence issue. Still, the Navy is considering building a permanent concrete wall.

“The force protection of our base, personnel, and families is our highest priority,” Becky Shaw, the spokesperson, said in an email.

The shipping containers are just one indicator of the grinding toll of gunfire afflicting parts of Gulfport, a vibrant beach town of about 72,000 on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.

Residents and workers in the city’s most impoverished areas detailed the recurring snap of gunshots, incidents in which apartments have been struck by stray rounds, and the increasing frustration of the young and old alike having to scramble for cover when someone opens fire. They also described the dual tragedies of teens losing their lives at the hands of their peers, who end up facing lengthy sentences in prison.

A decade ago, Gulfport, where more than half of residents are white and nearly 40% are Black, reported two or three homicides a year. Since 2019, there have been at least 10 killings per year.


Gulfport is three hours south of Jackson, the capital, where the homicide rate is more than six times higher than in Gulfport. But while Jackson has had a more visible struggle with public safety, residents and community leaders in this coastal town say they, too, have grappled with gun violence for years.

Late Thursday evening, two people were injured in a shooting at a birthday party a few blocks from the Navy base’s shipping containers, and shortly afterward a 20-year-old man was shot and killed in a separate incident nearby.

On April 30, a pregnant 16-year-old, JaKamori Lake, was shot and killed in another part of Gulfport; police charged a 15-year-old in her death. A few days earlier, Gulfport police arrested a seventh suspect from a New Year’s Eve 2021 shooting that left four people dead.

“It may not be as bad as Jackson, it may not be as bad as Memphis, Tennessee, but we’ve got that problem,” said Louis Gholar, president of the West Gulfport Civic Club, who helped organize an upcoming community meeting about violence prevention. “I think not just in Gulfport — the whole coast has that problem.”

In April, five people were injured in a shooting during the popular Black Spring Break event in Biloxi. Two weeks later, a 19-year-old gunman in Bay St. Louis allegedly shot and killed two teenagers and injured four others at an after-prom party. And in May, a shooting during a Cinco de Mayo party at an Ocean Springs bar left a 19-year-old dead and six others wounded.


Gholar is troubled that many of the victims and suspects in Gulfport in recent years have been teens. {snip}


In Gaston Point, a historically Black middle-class neighborhood in Gulfport, some say that’s just part of the picture.

Martha Lockhart-Mais, a retired schoolteacher, said it’s also a question of how parents are supported in caring for their children. Teens need somewhere safe to go after school, she said.


“I don’t like walls that separate people,” she said. “I feel that people should be able to live together without having a barrier.”


William Bell Apartments, where much of that gunfire originated, has increased its security, local officials said, and the city has banned parking in a nearby zone to prevent loitering.

Several miles away, in another part of West Gulfport, Bettie Ewing, a retired housing rights organizer, is frustrated by how quickly the shipping containers went up to protect the Navy families, when there’s nothing similar to keep her home safe.

She said the barrier sent a message: “We’re going to protect the military, but the civilians, we’re just going to let them be.”

Since 2020, three people have been shot and killed at Emerald Pines, the subsidized apartment complex where Ewing lives. This year, the Gulfport Police Department’s online crime map notes seven incidents of shots fired on the blocks around the complex, though Ewing and others said the gunfire is more frequent.