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'Stop the Killing' wants to go beyond talk

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 1, 2011 - Marvin Jones thinks violence in St. Louis is getting out of hand, particularly, with young people. "Kids are losing their lives too quickly; they don't know how to settle things."

Jones is looking forward to a one-day event sponsored by a group called Voices of Faith. "Stop the Killing: An Action Plan Against Youth Gun Violence" hopes to encourage city residents to do more than just attend rallies.Also during the fair, organizations relating to anti-gun violence will be available to talk about the problems and to help residents learn how to be more involved in their efforts.

The Rev. Rodney Francis, pastor of The Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, wants the Saturday meeting to send a message: "There won't be a lot of speakers, it will (be a roll out of) this three-prong plan to engage ... the community."

The plan encourages residents to be aware, advocate nonviolence and be active in their community.

"I want young people to be inspired -- whether that's opening the church for more programs, the city enforcing curfews, or more police involvement to stop violence," Jones said.

Organizations such as Better Family Life and Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club are more involved in combating gang-related activity, whereas Voices of Faith focuses on prevention. One of the areas the group wants to enhance is after-school programs.

"We also focus on intervention, actively working with people to put down their guns," Francis said.

Jones was initially inspired by seeing Francis and other clergy members hold a forum on Feb. 26 at Vashon High School to discuss the increasing danger they saw in the community.

During the first Voices of Faith event, Francis and other clergy members decided to put a plan together encouraging members of their congregations to follow the three rules of awareness, advocacy and active participation in community.

"We want to give our members an option on how to prevent youth gun violence," Francis said.

Part of the campaign came from a local mosque's slogan aimed at encouraging young people to put down their guns.

"Minister Donald Muhammad of Mosque Twenty-Eight started 'Stop The Killing' with T-shirts and billboards. Their organization wanted to encourage and collaborate as well as build awareness to blanket the community. They want to let perpetrators know the community's engaged in this," Francis said.

"We encourage people to get into contact with organizations that help young people," he added.

Rev. Francis and members of his church are concerned with what they see on the news. "Every morning, I turn on Channel Two, and it seems that somebody's always dying overnight," Jones said.

Dennis Mares, assistant professor of criminal justice at SIUE, says that -- contrary to popular belief -- the crime rate in the city of St. Louis has been trending down, even with robbery and homicide.

"In the 1990s, you had between 240 to 200 homicides every year, and within the past few years the number's been around a 140," Mares said.

Mares says that most of the city's crime is committed by a small number of criminals, "The risk for the average citizen in North St. Louis isn't that large. If you're slinging dope on the street, the risk increases. It's important to separate the physical things from the mental aspects. Do you focus in on high crime areas?"

According to Mare, the stress of living in a region affected by social-economic factors can put a toll on parents and their children.

"Economics, lack of home structure, having single parent households, people don't pray like they used to: It seems like the family structure isn't what it used to be," Jones said.

Francis agrees that the lack of job opportunities hinders teens from staying out of trouble. "Jobs are important and we need to look at creating job opportunities for our kids. Giving them some viable options instead of turning to drugs, gangs and crime," Francis said.

"When you look at Chicago, it has 3 million people or one-third of metropolitan residents living in the city. Some are very affluent, washing out the crime. St. Louis city only has about 10 percent of (the area's) residents, which is a more impoverished section," in general, Mares said.

Mares thinks one of the best things for community organizers to do is to get involved with at-risk teens.

The first Voices of Faith event, on Feb. 26 at Vashon High School, attracted such high profile leaders as St. Louis Police Chief Daniel Isom and city public schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams.

The city leaders and clergyman discussed strategies on improving church engagement with anti-violence efforts. And to that end, city aldermen issued a statement expressing the need for the faith community to be more active in working to curb violence.

"It's a coalition being developed. Our goal is to broaden this event, and support the organizations to be successful," Francis said.

Marvin Jones said he wants young people to notice the efforts going on in the city. "We have to see what we can do to reach the youth somehow."

Ray Carter, a senior at Purdue University, is a summer intern.

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