Almost a full year after 4-year-old Marquel Peters was killed by a stray bullet believed to have been fired by a New Year’s Eve reveler, the DeKalb County Police Department is renewing its pledge to a campaign designed to reduce celebratory gunfire in the county – and state as a whole.
Marquel’s mother Nathalee Peters joined with community leaders and police at the DeKalb Alternative School on Dec. 8 to refocus public attention on the “Marquel’s Pledge” campaign.
“Marquel was a young man that was full of life. He loved church. He loved his family and he loved school. He was tragically taken away from us and as the anniversary of his death draws near we will honor his memory,” said Church of God of Prophecy Bishop Lloyd G. Phillips.
Together the Church of God of Prophecy, where the bullet struck Marquel, and DeKalb Police Athletic League will host a candlelight vigil in memory of Marquel on Friday, Dec. 17, 7 p.m. at 3333 Covington Drive, Decatur.
“The pledge is to educate our community with regard to the danger of celebratory gunfire. The laws of physics taught us that what goes up must come down, and unfortunately when a bullet comes down it creates damage,” Phillips said.
The stray bullet came through the roof of the sanctuary while Marquel sat in church with his mother and struck him in the top of his head, according to police.
DeKalb Police Public Safety Director William Miller spoke directly to the students and challenged the societal attraction to guns.
“I want to make sure that you all will fulfill your promise. I can see that you have so much to give and I would just dread for anything like this to happen to any one of you,” Miller said.
“So as you leave here today don’t just leave and say ‘oh well, it was just a press conference and life goes on.’ Life won’t go on unless we make a change. Life won’t go on unless we change the culture in the Southeast and across the country of using guns – celebratory or for any reason,” Miller added.
The campaign originally launched in January 2010. Over the past 11 months Miller said he has worked with neighborhood organizations, and more than 1,000 people have taken the pledge.
On a local level the campaign will do two things, according to police – educate and cut holiday ammunitions sales.
The county is encouraging ammunition dealers to refrain from selling bullets on the days leading up to the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve and other holidays.
So far seven DeKalb businesses have taken the pledge, agreeing to not sell ammunition between July 1 and July 4, and on New Year’s Eve.
Some have agreed to sell only selective ammunition.
“We took the pledge because we are community based. We live and work here. I definitely encourage others to do so,” Moreland Pawn Shop store operator Nikita Godfrey said.
Miller is also encouraging the Georgia State Legislature to enact stiffer penalties for those who are charged with engaging in celebratory gunfire.
“Today if police were to catch Marquel’s shooter the penalty they would face would be either reckless conduct or discharging a firearm in public–both misdemeanors,” Miller said.
“What we’ve drafted is a new addition to the Georgia homicide statute called reckless homicide–that would increase it to a felony,” he added.
Marquel’s Pledge can be taken online at www.dekalbcountyga.gov.