June 11, 2010 11:49:00 AM
Jason Browne - [email protected]
A recent string of violent crimes in Columbus and surrounding cities has provoked the community to begin looking for solutions from within.
A trio of meetings planned for June began Thursday with a public meeting on crime prevention at the Municipal Complex, offering citizens the chance to take an active role in crime prevention. Nobody is sure what form those roles will take, only that something must be done beyond conventional law enforcement methods.
"We''re trying to put a long-term plan in place to deter crime. We want to collect data and determine what is the perception of the people," said Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem, who has suffered two murders in his ward in the past two months. "We have to look at (crime) as a community problem. It takes everyone to come up with some kind of solution."
Thursday''s meeting was a call for volunteers. Rather than asking attendees to share their stories or suggest solutions, the meeting sought to assemble a task force of volunteers to collect data on public opinion.
"We''ll be going door-to-door to ask people how they feel about the police department and the crime aspect in the community -- probably four or five questions," he said.
That data will be combined with crime statistics from the police department, and another mass meeting will be called to reveal the task force''s findings.
District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks, one of the public meeting''s organizers, hopes to raise enough money to bring Daniel Kellar, executive director of the American Crime Prevention Institute in Louisville, Ky., to Columbus to deliver a seminar on crime prevention strategies.
The cost to pay for Kellar''s travel and literature to be dispensed to 50 people at the seminar comes to approximately $4,000.
Brooks is not sure how many neighborhood watches remain in effect in Columbus and Lowndes County, but Kellar will explain how to implement those and further steps citizens can take to deter crime.
Although the seminar will focus on citizen methods and the task force will gather data on the community''s perception of the police and sheriff''s departments, Karriem said the group will work with law enforcement officials. There is no limit to the number of volunteers who may participate on the task force.
Another meeting, scheduled for June 17 at 9:30 a.m. at Lee Middle School, will look at the issue from a slightly different point of view.
The Stop the Violence Youth Summit will engage middle schoolers and high schoolers to discuss violence in the community. WCBI anchor Siobahn Riley, the summit''s moderator and one of its organizers, said a panel will be assembled to answer a number of prepared questions, but a dialogue will be encouraged between panel and audience.
The panel will include Karriem, Columbus Police Chief St. John, Lee Middle School teacher Angela Reed, Kingdom Vision International Church Pastor R.J. Matthews and high school students from Noxubee County, West Point and Columbus.
"This is an organized response to the recent (fatal) shootings. Over the last three years I''ve noticed it seems like every summer (violence) tends to increase. This summer was a wake-up call," Riley said.
Quentin Spencer, 20, was shot to death at the Everyday Club and Lounge on Seventh Avenue North, April 20, and Justin Murry, 22, was shot to death in a Schoolhouse Avenue home, May 17.
Students of all ages are encouraged to share their comments and concerns at the summit in hope of crafting solutions.
"We want to encourage youth to think twice before you react (violently). That''s the main focus. And that''s not just killings, but fights, too," said Riley.
A third violence prevention rally will take place in Columbus June 26, from 1-8 p.m., at Propst Park. The Columbus chapter of the National Action Network will host the third annual Stop the Violence-Promote the Peace Rally.
A press release says the event wants to "come up with a plan of action to fight back against the out-of-control violence that plagues our communities and city."