Friday, April 18, 2003

Violence solutions hashed out

Vigilant, active, brave citizens summoned

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Courage and community involvement are the keys to eradicating the wave of urban gun violence that has ravaged the city the past two years, a group of 30 parents, ministers and activists said Thursday at a conference in Evanston.

"We've been picketing, marching and boycotting and our children are still dying," said the Rev. Peterson Mingo, a chief organizer of the conference and pastor of Evanston's Christ Temple Baptist Church.

The group's main points:

• Parents must become more involved in their children's lives and pay closer attention to their behavior and habits.

• Clergy must take their spiritual messages from behind the pulpit and onto the street corners.

• Residents must cooperate more with police when they witness a violent crime.

The "Solutions" forum took place two days after Cincinnati suffered its most deadly night of an already increasingly violent year. The meeting, in fact, was held at Parham Middle School, which is just a few blocks from where a 16-year-old was shot in the arm Tuesday night. Three fatal shootings within four hours late Tuesday and early Wednesday brought the city's homicide total this year to 27 - a 35 percent increase in killings over this time in 2002. African-American men accounted for roughly 70 percent of those homicide victims.

The conference, presented by the Baptist Ministers Conference of Greater Cincinnati and Vicinity and the Cincinnati Youth Street Workers Program, had been planned for several weeks and was among the latest community efforts aimed at curbing "black-on-black" violence.

A coalition of African-American civil rights, religious and social service organizations launched an anti-violence campaign on New Year's Day, called "Peace Down the Way," designed to promote peace on the streets. The Nation of Islam has also been training volunteers for the past three months on how to patrol neighborhood streets.

"Very seldom does a week go by that we don't hear about another young black man or young black woman being senselessly killed in the streets," Mingo said. "We have to find out what it is about our community that makes us hate ourselves so much that our young people would go out and shoot someone who looks like them."

Last year, the number of homicides in Cincinnati reached a 15-year high at 64. African-Americans accounted for 78 percent of all homicide victims, while black men between 18 and 29 made up roughly half.

Rev. Calvin Harper, pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in Walnut Hills and president of the Baptist Ministers Conference, said there is no greater problem facing this city than violence.

"We cannot participate in our own demise," Harper said.

The group determined that drugs and gangs are at the root of the rash of shootings and killings.

Rufus Johnson, a former gang member and president of Real Truth Inc., a gang prevention program funded by the Empowerment Zone, also pointed to the proliferation of guns on the streets.

"You can't have drugs without having gangs," Johnson said. "And you can't have gangs without violence. That's just the way it is."

David Mizell of College Hill said more African-American men must cast aside their fear and walk some of the toughest streets in an effort to reach troubled youths.

"I ain't too fond of trying to go down in Over-the-Rhine either, but we have to go down to the Vietnam areas and get them," Mizell said. "Because they are not coming to us."

Officer Eric Dunn, an Evanston beat cop, encouraged the audience to adopt the philosophy, "If you do dirt, I'm telling" when it comes to violent crime in their neighborhoods. Dunn said many times residents witness a crime, but won't report it to police.

"We need to get to a point where we are telling on folks," he said. "Call in anonymously if you have to. Too often we see people acting up and we just turn our heads."


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