Violence forum addresses community issues

Published 7:11 am Thursday, January 22, 2009

A community forum on violence was recently held that addressed many social issues affecting Bainbridge and Decatur County.

The forum was held at Nelson Chapel A.M.E. Church in Bainbridge with many elected officials, community leaders and educators serving on a panel, as well as members of the community in attendance, to discuss topics that touched on the causes and possible solutions to growing incidents of violence and crime.

The Rev. Raymond Mayes began by explaining why he called for the forum. He said it became evident to him that the meeting was necessary when he read about the fights that occurred during December’s City of Bainbridge Christmas Parade. He asked members of the panel, “What is the reason for the violence?”

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As the forum progressed, a list of points of interest was created highlighting the problems affecting local communities. Topics included teenage pregnancy, parent accountability, education, employment, youth activities and community outreach programs.

Decatur County Sheriff Wiley Griffin addressed the question first by giving some statistics. He said he would estimate that 80 percent of the inmates in the jail are there for drugs and alcohol and the majority of inmates are not high school graduates. Griffin said making sure young people stay in school and the community does not accept drop-outs would help in addition to decreasing the number of students in classrooms so kids don’t “slip through the cracks.”

Many panelists agreed that young people must be taught the gravity of dropping out of school.

Charlotte Howard, a member of the NAACP Youth Council, said that a lack of good jobs in the area does not drive kids to graduate from high school. She said kids think immediate and that selling drugs to make money is a quick way to get things they want. Howard felt there is a need to bring more businesses and industry into the area.

Start at the home

The overall perspective of those in attendance was the problem with youth must first be addressed in the home. Many educators said parents must work with teachers to discipline children instead of often time siding with students when there is a problem.

“The education system and law enforcement is not the problem,” said Marvin Thomas, Hutto Middle School principal. “We’re not the enemy.”

Thomas also said the community and parents need to work with law enforcement and educators to keep young people on the right track. He noted there need to be vehicles to reach parents like churches.

Board of Education member Winston Rollins said there are not enough youth activities in place to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble. He said there needs to be more community involvement and structured supervision for youths.

A member of the audience said, “The biggest problem I see is that parents are not held liable.” He suggested that parents of children should be susceptible to fines for wearing unacceptable clothing like saggy pants to encourage parents to place and take more responsibility for their children.

Charles Stafford, a newly elected county commissioner, explained that many problems stem from teenage parents who lack the knowledge necessary for parenthood. He said many parents who are combative with educators often stem from having to defend their children in the home and community, “going from crisis to crisis.”

Stafford said young mothers must be found and helped to better understand what their kids are facing. He agreed with, “putting monetary teeth in the saggy pants ordinance.”

An officer with Bainbridge Public Safety, Kenneth Ellison, said it comes down to, “Teaching a young boy to be a man, and a young woman to be woman.” He said many men in the community continue to act like boys in their appearance and activities, creating a cycle of criminals. He also expressed frustration with citizens afraid to give information to police because they “don’t want to be a snitch,” while at the same time communities become filled with drugs and violence.

A 36-year-old native of Decatur County in the audience gave his insight into the problems. He explained that when he graduated from high school, like many young people, he moved away because, “there is nothing here to keep people here.” He said in Chicago, Ill., he found many activities he enjoyed like gyms, volleyball and spoken-word nights, which are like recitals of poems or rap-like lyrics. He said activities for young people make people want to stay and help out with young people.

“We need to stop being afraid of kids,” he said. “We must step up and correct kids.”

Josh Paske from Family Connection and The Friendship House, which both provide support for families and youths, said the effort will need to be a “community collaboration” with the entire community—law enforcement, churches, schools and citizens—working to make things better. Paske urged people to make a plan and follow it and become involved with existing programs like the Friendship House, helping young people find the right track.