Black leaders in St. Louis to recruit 'street teams' in anti-crime campaign

Friday, June 6, 2008 | 1:52 a.m. CDT; updated 6:20 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

FLORISSANT — Black leaders who organized an anti-crime march that drew tens of thousands last weekend in St. Louis said Thursday they have begun recruiting “street teams” to mobilize in high-crime neighborhoods.

Teams of men, including former gang members, will be assigned a city neighborhood to visit regularly for “real talk” with youth about teen pregnancy, drugs and gang violence, and to be role models for the rewards of education and employment. They’ll also encourage residents to report crimes and suspicious behavior to police.

Other plans call for partnering with other groups to mentor young people, and holding regular neighborhood summits to get residents tackling their problems.

“We want to liberate our community, and help them know themselves,” said Bishop Courtney Jones of Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship.

“Our kids like to talk real talk,” Jones said. “We’ll talk to them about having six or seven babies, the need for child support and the effects of drugs. This won’t be surface stuff.”

The announcement follows Sunday’s much publicized black men’s march in St. Louis to protest violence, especially black-on-black crime and the social ills that feed it.

The march was the launch for a plan dubbed “Call to Oneness” that black ministers, businessmen and community leaders have been working on since February. Its aim is to reduce crime and violence and resurrect struggling city neighborhoods.

The march succeeded in getting people’s attention and demonstrated the black community is not complacent about its problems, said the Rev. F. James Clark of Shalom Church in Florissant, who heads the “Oneness” campaign.

Now, it’s time to inspire and recruit people to get involved. At a meeting Monday night, the response was overwhelming, Jones said.

“This is not magic,” Clark said. “This is going to take a whole lot of hard work.” He added, don’t expect results overnight. “We’re in this for the long haul.”

Sunday night, the crowd from the day’s march to end violence had barely dissipated when 16-year-old Shirlene Williams was fatally shot in the head at a St. Louis gas station parking lot.

More than 100 men organized by the “Oneness” campaign gathered the next night at the same gas station in a stand against violence, Clark said. Some of them later visited the dead girl’s grandmother to offer condolences. They plan to attend the girl’s funeral Monday.

As of Monday, the city had 65 murders, 19 more than last year at this time. There were 138 homicides in the city during all of last year.

Clark said he’s received phone calls from citizens in Kansas City, Detroit, Memphis, Tenn., Chicago and Atlanta, wanting to duplicate St. Louis’ citizen crime-fighting efforts.

“I told them, ‘I’ll get back to you,’” Clark said, once it’s clear which strategies work best.

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