Residents asked to 'Break the Silence'
MERIDIAN, Dec 16, 2012 (The Meridian Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
At a Stop the Violence rally in Meridian Saturday, event organizers told more than 200 residents gathered at the Boys & Girls Club of East Mississippi that a culture of silence that discourages people from turning in criminals must end in order to stop the rash of shootings and armed robberies that have plagued the city.
With eight murders, numerous nonfatal shootings and more than 760 reports of shots fired -- some false alarms -- in the city this year, police have implored residents to come forward with information about those involved in the crimes.
Fear of retaliation by those committing the crimes and a culture that brands those who inform on them as "rats" or "snitches" has hindered the arrest and prosecution of the criminals, officials have said.
"I understand people are hesitant to report (the criminals) for fear of retribution," Meridian Police Department Chief James Reed told those gathered at the Boys & Girls Club. "... In order to prosecute, we must have witnesses."
T-shirts worn by some at the rally asked residents to "Stand Up. Break the Silence. Stop da Violence."
Reed and Mayor Cheri Barry were among five panelists who fielded questions from audience members. The panel also included a member of the emergency responder dispatch system and two church pastors.
The Rev. Odell Hopkins, pastor of West Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, called for a renewal of the city's moral compass and a return to values that once existed when watchful community members minded each other's children.
"It's everybody's responsibility," Hopkins said. "Everyone in here has a job to do in this community ... It's a community effort and not just the pastors and police."
Several local organizations supported the event, including Weems Community Health Center, LaBaron Hedgemon Ministries, Men for Change, the Meridian Public School District, Meridian Housing Authority, Northcrest Baptist Church and pastors from area churches. Community leader William Miles, director of Young People of Praise, helped coordinate the rally, along with the city and the Boys & Girls Club.
"We all live in this community and it affects all of us," Myles said of the violence. "It's definitely a collaborative effort to do what we need to do to bring this community back to being safe again."
James Patton said his church -- Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church -- is working with at-risk youths to show them there is a better way.
Patton said he is a former gang member and has been in and out of prison most of his life.
"I am letting God use me as a living testimony to try to keep some of these guys from going down the same road I went down," Patton said.
The city will host a community meeting of pastors from Meridian and Lauderdale County at the Meridian City Hall on Monday at 5 p.m. to discuss crime prevention.
Barry said at the Tuesday meeting of the city council, she will ask for the reallocation of $25,000 in discretionary funds and $75,000 in Public Works funds so the money can be used to pay overtime for police officers to patrol high crime areas.
"I am very serious about what's going on and we are fixing to stop it," Barry said of the crime.
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