Fruitbelt Neighbors Speak for Us All in the Wake of Community Tragedy
Creative ideas, a call for unity, and a plan for action was the outcome of the “Emergency Community Meeting” held at Centennial Baptist Church last Saturday in the Fruitbelt neighborhood. The event, which drew over 150 people, was designed to allow residents the opportunity to speak without fear as they shared legitimate concerns and collectively sought solutions.
Bishop Darius Pridgen, one of the conveners of the meeting, was accompanied by the police department’s top brass to listen, learn and respond to the community’s concerns. Less than a month after gunmen shot and killed, 54-year old Yvette Johnson and her 17-month old grandson, shooters returned to the same Grape Street home and shot two more young men.
Neighbors called for not only an end to the violence, but the need for better police-community relations and accountability. The biggest block to giving up “information” several speakers shared, is lack of trust of authorities to protect them. The officers present did not argue the point and both they and Bishop Pridgen acknowledged that there was a problem. The officers did however point to current community policing efforts, as an attempt to resolve the issue.
Everyone was not impressed. “Respect is not a one-way street” demanded one young man. “One of the biggest pieces missing over the years is the relationship between the community and the police…you want the community to trust ya’ll but you have offices who disrespect the community… that’s the main problem.” He assured if more respect was shown to everyday citizens, officers would get a lot more people to engage in the process. “Every police officer needs to be a community police officer,” he said.
However those gathered also admitted that just as importantly, we have failed ourselves as a people and a community, “We’ve got to get back to being nosey neighbors,” encouraged Council President Bishop Pridgen. “We’ve got to be a community (again)!” He said that as a people we also have to a get away from using the term “homicide victims.” That term numbs and desensitizes us, he explained.
-Do You Know Where Your Children Are?- Most agreed that we need to know where our children are and what they are doing and if they’re doing anything wrong, we need to intervene. “It’s the community who is going to make it (the violence) go away,” said a youth worker. “Many of the kids creating the crimes are related to someone in this room.” He encouraged parents to please “moniter your children.” “We’ve got to rethink some things,” he added. “We got people being killed every day.” One senior asked emotionally, “how can you sit back and see this kind of damage and not say something?”
In addition to more active parenting and better police-community relations, other suggestions coming from the meeting included:
•The need for both home security cameras and strategically placed cameras throughout the neighborhood, which would be the city’s responsibility. Bishop Pridgen said he would look into finding funding to help reduce the cost for those who wanted cameras.
•The importance of having Block Clubs on every street so that folks are meeting and talking to their neighbors. Pridgen’ said his office will also be looking into helping that become a reality.
•The school to prison pipeline needs to be seriously addressed, a former educator urged. “Stop pushing our Black male students out of school – there is another way to deal with them!”
•If you have information about a crime and you don’t trust calling the police, call your pastor or elected official. Another suggestion was for the department to designate a high level, trusted person to take the information .
“When you feel like you’re out there alone its tough,” acknowledged Bishop Pridgen. “That’s the reason for this meeting.”
“As a community we have to show a united front. Our message must be, ‘We’re united together and we won’t be silent!’ ”
At the end of the meeting Rev. Alan Core, host pastor of Centennial Baptist, announced that three major churches in the Fruitbelt, New Zion, Promise Landand Centennial, were hosting a community healing party on August 25 on Peach Street all the way to Mulberry Street. The joint effort will be a first.