August 4, 2010 11:27:00 AM
With a cousin in jail, crime is more than a statistic for 16-year-old Jamila Stewart.
That''s one of the reasons the Victory Christian Academy student said she turned out for the 16th annual Night Out event Tuesday sponsored by the Columbus Police Department.
She and between 3,000 and 4,000 people met at six block parties around town, where officers gave out 2,400 items, including donated school supplies and other goods, said CPD Community Relations Officer Rhonda Sanders.
"By all means, it was a very good turnout," Sanders added
Besides the free food, music, games and supplies, the event gave members of the community a chance to bond, said Mayor Robert Smith.
"It shows unity and diversity," he continued. "From the police department''s perspective, it''s an opportunity to bring the community together."
Building a sense of community encourages residents to report crime in their neighborhoods, said Frances Yarbrough, a volunteer who has attended Night Out for the past eight years.
"It''s a show of force," she said of the block parties. "These people don''t want violence in their neighborhood."
Deloris Johnson, 55, said residents like her who live in high-crime areas need to "straighten things up and take our community back."
Johnson, who lives near Sim Scott Park, said the way to do that was by increasing communication between parents and children.
"Talk to the child about values, about growing up," she continued. "Teach them about crime and why it''s wrong."
"Parents need to be involved with their children," she added.
What younger people also need, Stewart said, is relief from boredom.
"During the summer, we don''t have activities," said Stewart, who has come to the event since she was 6. "A lot of parents don''t have enough money to take their kids to (free community centers)."
Carlos Fields, a 40-year-old parent with four children, said activities like Night Out gave younger people an outlet for their energy.
"When they get bored, that''s when they go to being bad," said Fields as he entered the East Columbus Gym site.
"I got kids getting book bags, binders and stuff for school," he continued. "(Night Out) is helping out a lot."