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Major effort to galvanize Eastside community in fight against crime

Needed - 100 African American men to engage youth on the street
Warwick Jones

It is a universal opinion that the community must be involved to successfully fight crime. It was said again yesterday at a meeting on the Eastside. The meeting had been called as a prelude to a major initiative to combat the drug problems and violent crime on the Eastside. And if the initiative can succeed, then the effort will be extended to other neighborhoods.

Council members lead effort
The initiative seems to have grown from discussions firstly between City Council member Mitchell and County Council member Darby, and joined by Representative Mack. Others signed on to the effort such as County Council member Pryor, City Council members Lewis and Gilliard and North Charleston City Councilmember Hart. These, and prominent members of the Eastside community were at the head table last night and spoke on the issue.

Initiative different from those in past
What makes this initiative different from others in the past? Most of the initiatives in the past have focused more on catching and jailing criminals. This initiative will focus on engaging youth who may be on the streets in the evening hours and dealing drugs. The group hopes that folk will volunteer from the Community to walk the streets and meet with youth. The meetings will not be confrontational, but conciliatory. Counseling will be offered but more importantly, the prospects of a job. The initiative proposed last night was not only a call for volunteers, but for local government and businesses to look for creating employment opportunities specifically for the youth on the streets.

But the effort will not be totally benign. It will be patterned to a large extent on the very successful initiative in the Liberty Hill community some 10 years ago to which Council member Darby contributed. Residents joined together to patrol the streets and counseled youth. However, they also took note of the drug dealers and the customers, including the license plate numbers of the cars. With the cooperation of the police, arrests were made, and some customers who were able to avoid charges, were made to feel uncomfortable enough to go elsewhere in future if they persisted in the drug using habit.

And what are chances of success?
And what are the chances of success? We can't answer our question. The program worked at Liberty Hill and although there are some differences, it ought to work at least to some degree on the Eastside. The Nation of Islam also has some volunteers walking the streets and counseling youth. Its efforts are modest but successful it seems.

How many will volunteer?
But there is no doubt that some big obstacles exist for the latest initiative. The first is the ability to secure enough volunteers to walk the streets. The target of the group is "100 African American men". We spoke to a member of the Community Center in which the meeting was held and he commented on how difficult it was to get folk to volunteer to help at the Center. In our view, a program would still be viable with a smaller group but we venture no opinion as to the threshold.

Problem of job opportunities
The second problem is providing job opportunities. Local Government and businesses may have a strong willingness to cooperate though the target of 300 to 500 jobs may be a stretch. But we suspect that the youth wandering the streets and target of the initiative is poorly educated with few skills. Most may be incapable, without further training or education of filling the positions that employers are willing or able to create.

Youth will not be easily tamed
Some members of the audience had some strong opinions about the counseling. Everybody applauded the effort and noted the very pressing need for action against crime. But one speaker warned the youth on the street was not going to be placated by soft words or religious texts. Many had mothers who were drug addicts. They were under the influence of drugs since their conception. The speaker was very critical of the role that pastors of the local churches had played in past efforts to curb crime. They were nowhere to be seen he said. But apart from the warning, he made no contribution to a possible solution.

Churches need to make more effort
Council member Lewis also commented on the need for Churches to become more directly involved and another speaker suggested that Churches should tell their congregations to get more involved in the community, and attend more community meetings.

Public Meeting on Tuesday, August 29
A meeting has been called for Tuesday August 29 at 7 pm at the Trident Technical College, Palmer Campus on Columbus Street. All members of the public are invited and will be allowed to speak on the subject. Community leaders and representatives of the business community have also been invited to speak and these include Mayor Riley of the City, Chairman Stavrinakis of the County Council, Superintendent Goodloe- Johnson of County Schools and President Van Rysselberge of the Chamber of Commerce

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