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SomCo Prosecutor: We Won’t Allow Violence To Continue

Somerset County Prosecutor Michael Robertson speaks to the congregation at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens on January 5 regarding gun violence in the township.

The Somerset County Prosecutor told a responsive audience at a local church January 5 that local and county law enforcement will not allow the recent spate of gun violence in the township to continue.

Prosecutor Michael Robertson’s remarks were made during the 10 a.m. prayer service at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, and came in the wake of the murder of a township man and the wounding of another in several shooting incidents at the end of 2019.

Robertson was invited to speak to the congregation by the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries, who has for decades been working to curb gang activity and other violence in the township.

Recounting his experience as an assistant Essex County Prosecutor and as an Assistant US Attorney fighting gang violence, Robertson said, “no matter what part of Somerset County you live in, I care about you.”

“The reality is that parts of Franklin are facing extreme gun violence and death,” Robertson said. “It’s something that myself as the chief law enforcement officer, and law enforcement officers in Franklin and in my office, are not going to allow to continue.”

But, Robertson said, “it just doesn’t fall on law enforcement. That adage, ‘see something, say something,’ it applies to everything in our community. You all are our eyes and our ears. There are things that you can see, and there are things that you can share with us to help us combat this violence.”

“You have my commitment, you have my office’s commitment, you have the commitment of the Franklin Police Department, to do what we can to stop this,” he said. “But again, I do need your help.”

“I want to make sure that my kids, your kids, anyone’s kids, live in a safe environment,” he said.

Robertson said he would go wherever he was invited to speak to youth and others about stopping violence in the community.

Soaries said he invited Robertson to speak to the congregation because, he said, in his experience, “when communities and law enforcement work together, share information, respect each other, cover each other’s backs, then we have peace and we have security the way we want to have peace and security.”

Soaries told the congregation that to help in the fight against gun violence, the church is expanding its youth outreach program as part of its “Hearts We Win” campaign to “ensure that every young person that’s willing to do so will have access to tutoring and mentoring and cultural exposure.”

“We believe that you can’t just lock children up and write them off, you have to win them over to lifestyles that guarantee a productive future,” he said.

“I firmly believe that the overwhelming majority of our young people are honest, decent, peace-loving, respectful children,” Soaries said. “I also believe that the majority of the minority, when offered options and activities and mentors and hope, will choose the right thing over the wrong thing.”

“We’ve got challenges, but the only thing worse than having a challenge is not stepping up and responding to it,” Soaries said. “We are not going to write off any of our young people. We’re not going to assume anything about them, despite what we hear, or even what we see. We’re going to love them into maturity, so that God can turn them into the people that God made them to be.”

Also attending the service were members of the school district administration, including schools Superintendent John Ravally, Franklin High School principal Frank Chmiel, Franklin High School vice principal Rebekah Solomon, Franklin Middle School – Hamilton Street campus principal Nicholas Solomon and Orvyl Wilson, the district’s director of school management.

In addition, Township Council members Carl Wright, Kimberly Francois and Crystal Pruitt, along with Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders Director Shanel Robinson, attended.

The Franklin Reporter & Advocate live-streamed the event:

Special gun violence discussion at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, featuring Rev. DeForest Soaries and Somerset County Prosecutor Michael Robertson.

Posted by The Franklin Reporter & Advocate on Sunday, January 5, 2020

Here are some scenes from the event:

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