The new Citizens Task Force on Violence held a listening session Saturday and the panel got an earful.
One by one at the Lewis M. Jordan Police Campus, 2640 Prospect Ave., citizens stepped up and talked about nightly gunfire, truant teens, overly aggressive police, poverty pimpin’, media bias, apathetic neighbors and how poor reading skills lead to crime.
Lawyer Philip Cardarella assailed the criminal justice system for labeling too many teens felons for life and legislators for having a love affair with the National Rifle Association. The gathering applauded when he said every gun in town needs to be rounded up and tossed into Troost Lake.
A woman got laughter when she told of calling police late one night to report gunfire coming from a car in front of her house. The dispatcher, the woman said, asked what kind of car it was.
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“Who looks out the window when there’s shooting going on?” she asked the crowd.
The task force was appointed by Mayor Sly James and is led by City Councilwoman Jolie Justus. It’s charged with coming up with strategies to reduce the city’s murder rate and the rates of other violent crime. The 19 members include elected officials, professionals, social service workers, clergy and educators.
Justus said the listening sessions are for the public to provide ideas. More such sessions are planned.
Speakers on Saturday were limited to five minutes. Most took every second.
Ken Grist, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration instructor, told the panel that he believes the lack of literacy is partly responsible for the high crime rate. According to him, a majority of people who are incarcerated did not graduate from high school and cannot read at a basic level.
Changing that, he said, “will go a long way toward keeping kids in school and reducing crime.”
Several in the audience, including Maurice Copeland, complained of police behavior.
“We shouldn’t have to confront police because police are supposed to be right,” Copeland said. “But people in our community know that’s not right.”
At least one person, however, said the police did a good job in his neighborhood.
Brian Goines, with the Center for Conflict Resolution, pushed for more intervention to resolve youth conflicts before they get to the criminal justice system.
“When I was a kid, parents talked and worked things out,” Goines said. “Now parents say, ‘Let’s go get ’em.’ ”
A woman said that an inherent problem is neighborhood groups and initiatives that go after the same funding and grants, and there are only so many dollars to go around. She called it “poverty pimpin’. ”
William Thomas commended the task force but said nothing good will happen until the black community stands up. He called for volunteers to go with him to knock on doors of teens who are in trouble and should be in school. Maybe their mothers are having hardships that can be helped, he said.
He reminded the crowd of a 14-year-old girl who was found murdered in a Southland water park. Prosecutors charged three teenagers.
“They pistol-whipped her, then shot her,” Thomas said. “Those are our kids.”
The next task force meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Gregg-Klice Community Center at 17th Terrace and the Paseo.
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182