Erie Now: Community Violence

Erie Now: Community Violence


[ Music ]>>Hello, and welcome to a
special simultaneous television and web broadcast of WQLN’s
Erie Now, community violence. I’m your host, Marcus Atkinson. Erie Now is a public affairs
program with which we hope to educate and inspire
our viewers to take action in the community. Tonight we will focus on a trend that has terrorized our
neighborhoods, destroyed lives, and broken the hearts and families throughout
our communities. That trend? Gun violence. The statistics that surround
this topic are alarming. In Erie, 11 people alone
were murdered in 2014, an increase of 7
murders compared to 2013. Tonight, our program will
be separated into two parts. First, we will focus on
the underlying issues that contribute to gun violence. During the second half of
the program, we will look at what can be done, what
are the long-term solutions, and how can we begin
to change the dynamic? To begin the discussion,
we’ve invited select members of our community to this
special televised forum. To my right we have Daryl
Craig of the Blue Coats, also we have Sonya Arrington,
City of Erie, founder of MATV, Mothers Against Teen Violence. We also have Mike Jaruszewicz,
Director of Community Building, United Way of Erie County, and
last we have Mr. Jeff Pinski who was a former news
editor of the morning news, and retired Associate
Director of Public Relations and Marketing at Edinboro
University of Pennsylvania. He will give a historical
perspective. First question, Mike, you
heard the homicide numbers that I referred to in 2014, what
does the statistical data show about the pattern of
violence that has developed in recent years, and,
Jeff, feel free to chime in on this one as well.>>Right, thanks Marcus. So the Jefferson Education
Society recently published an essay on the safety
of our community. One of the primary indicators
they used was the violent crime rate. That includes things
like robbery, rape, aggravated assault, and murder. And what we’ve found is that
over the last few years, you know, Erie is
actually one of the, the safest cities in the region. Our violent crime rate is almost
half that of comparable cities in the Tristate region. What complicates this
is there’s a disconnect between that overall
violent crime rate and the homicide rate. You stated some alar,
alarming numbers earlier. Over the last couple of
years, that rate has, or the homicide rate has doubled from what it was
several years ago. And if you compare that to
the national average that is, is declining in terms of
homicides, ours is increasing. And so, you know, that’s a
challenge for our community. And, and, you know, folks are
looking at some of the reasons for it, and the, the police have
attributed it to drug conflict, also to neighborhood
feuds, but again, I just like to emphasize the
fact that overall, you know, we do live in a safe
community and with regards to, to gun violence,
we find that it’s, it’s very geographically
centered, particular pockets, as it relates to those,
to those specific causes.>>Yeah, well, I think,
historically, and I, I agree with a lot of what
you, what you’re saying Mike, but I think, historically,
anybody who’s over 50, who’s been in Erie for a
while, sees this as the worst that we can ever remember
when it comes to gun violence, almost every single day there’s
a story in the newspaper, there’s stories on the
evening news, on television, referring to gun violence. We have a different culture
today in our neighborhoods than we had 20, 30, 40,
50 years, years ago. That days of that Leave
It To Beaver, Ward Cleaver and June Cleaver, nuclear
family, as we once know it, those days aren’t,
aren’t, here any longer. And I don’t think they’re going
to come back anytime real soon. And instead, a, a lot of
people I hear saying, well, we need this, we need that,
we need the two parents, families again, but if that
doesn’t happen, we can’t, we can’t deal with what
once was, we have to deal with what is, and what
the future will be to make that, to
make that better. As far as, as far as
culturally, years ago, you had a social economic
system that provided for just about everybody in
the community. You, you don’t have that now. I grew up in the
lower east side. I went to East High School, and it was a very diverse
student population, as it is now. The difference is that the, the
kids, black kids, white kids, their fathers worked next to
each other on paper machines at the hammer mill,
or at the GE, or any of countless industrial
shops on the east side, then you don’t have
that going on right now. In fact, you have 30 percent
of the children nationally, and even more in our community
who are living in poverty. So you have that social
economic situation that you didn’t have
histor, historically. I think a lot of
that leads to it, maybe later on we’ll talk
a little bit about guns.>>I want to touch quickly
on what Mike just said about the geography
issue, because it, it has, traditionally, at least
for the last couple of years been concentrated
in certain pockets. I think what makes people
very nervous right now, as compared to the past, and
maybe you two want to chime in on this, you look at the
shooting over at McKinley Park, and the fact that you
were shooting at a, a young individual, and
there were 50 kids present. You look at this latest
shooting, and if you look at the neighborhood, I
had someone tell me that, well if my child asked
to go to that house, look at where it was, I
wouldn’t have minded them going to that party. So these shootings are
starting to be on location. Brother D, are we going
around a strange trend here? As far as, it seems like the
gloves are off, if you will, and all caution is being
thrown to the window in terms of where these shootings are
taking place, time of day, areas, location, is
that something that, that’s getting increasingly
worse unto itself?>>Most definitely. First, before I even go there,
I wanted to address something that Mike, he talked about
the challenges that we have and with these statistics. And they are related
to this geography because you would
be hard-pressed to convince the people who
are living in those areas, where that violence occur,
that Erie is a safe city. Now I know what the
data might say, but I’m telling you what the
experience is of those people, like the lady who was sitting
in her living room and got shot. Like the baby that got
shot on Chestnut Street, the five months old, crawling
on the rug, they don’t feel like that’s a safe city. The 6-year-old that got shot
out in Holly, they don’t feel like that’s a safe city. You get what I mean? And so now, McKinley
Park, I guarantee you, nobody at McKinley Park
is thinking of Erie as a safe city anymore.>>The residents
of Summit Street.>>Exactly! Now, with this thing that
the guns are so prolific now, and this spirit, this violence,
this anger, this frustration that will lead one to discharge
a firearm at somebody else is so pervasive that it has spread. You’re seeing more
broad daylight shootings than ever before, ever
before, and the thing about is, it’s like we tell the kids,
your problems stick to you like Velcro, where you go,
it goes, and so these city, these children are free, or
these perpetrators are free to move about the city. And that’s, that’s spirit. It goes throughout
the city with them. It ain’t just Summit Street
that we should be shocked about. Wasn’t there an incident
too long, not too long ago where somebody pulled a gun out
in the shoe store at the mall? Unheard of. Unheard of!>>Yeah, I don’t think we
should, I don’t, I don’t want to be beating up on Mike
or, or the United Way…>>No, we’re not
beating up on Mike.>>Or the, or the Jefferson,
but I got to, I got to say I, I agree with you, and when the
essay came out, when I said, when I read that Erie is as
safe as comparable cities, comparable cities
of the same size and when you compare
the crime statistics, to me it’s like saying that Afghanistan is
just as safe as Iraq. You know what, they’re
all dangerous, they’re all very dangerous,
and no matter where you go, if we’re in the 200 block
of West 29th Street is, is where the party was, last
week, or McKinley Park or any of those areas in the city, we
do not have the same safe city that we used to have, and used
to go anywhere in the city, I went anywhere in the city
when I grew up, any neighborhood in the city and I felt safe. And people, we, we need
to do something now to make that happen again.>>Exactly!>>Even for citizens who don’t
live in the city, per say, I think we’re dealing
with the, the old adage of perception is reality. The perception now is, this, this is an unsafe time
here in Pennsylvania. Mike, go ahead, what
you were saying?>>You know, you’re
absolutely right. Society has changed over
the, the last few decades, and what we’re looking
at is the result of that change in society. Now just because, you know, the family structure may not be
what it once was doesn’t mean that we still don’t know
how to address the, the, the root causes of these,
these problem behaviors. You know, we’ve, we’ve looked
at, you know, I’m not talking about data again here, but
we’ve looked at the data for a community that makes
a very strong connection between the root causes of
these problem behaviors, like violence, like teen
pregnancy, like delinquency, and we found that there are
strategies to, to address them. You know, we follow, in
Erie County, what’s called, The Communities That
Care Model, it’s a, it’s a proven prevention model
that looks at those risk factors that lead to problem behaviors
and the protective factors that buffer against them, and we’ve identified the
priorities [phonetic] for a community. So it’s not a, a, a quick fix,
it’s a long-term strategy, but it’s going to involve
the entire community working together, swimming
in the same direction to address these root causes
to the issues that we saw on the newspaper every day.>>And I know in the second
segment, we’ll, we’ll go deeper into the solution phase. I really want to bring
Sonya into this conversation because we have, you know, a woman who actually lost her
child to this gun violence. I know when, respectfully, when
you started your organization, it was right after you lost
your son, Steve Arrington Jr. If I’m not mistaken,
he was 19 at the time and Larry Lemon was 17. And if I can just break
something down real quick, because it’s Mothers Against
Teen Violence, and if you look at the pattern that
developed after that, I’m just reading off
some of the ages of, of the victims following
that, 30, 18, 35, 24, 37, 39, 24, and so on. Here we come back around and lately we have a 16-year-old
shooting at police officers. We have a 14-year-old
murdering an 18-year-old, a 19-year-old staffer for a
youth program being shot at. Now we genuinely
have, once again, a pattern of youth/teen
violence. What place does that
take you to emotionally when you see this play out, because you’ve lived
this story before?>>Well, every time
there’s a, a, a youth or a young adult that’s killed
in Erie, it brings me back to the day that I lost my son. You know, I’m living my son’s
death over and over every day, every time somebody
else lose their life. And what people need to
understand is our children, our community, these
kids are traumatized. They’re, they’re losing their
brothers, their cousins, their friends, and there’s
nobody out there going to these kids and
saying, hey, look, what can we do to help you? Do you need to talk to somebody? We need counselors, therapists,
we, we need social workers, we need these people
on the streets trying to talk to these kids. You know, because they
really need that help, a lot of this that’s
going on is retaliation. These kids got so much anger and
frustration in them, in them, and the smallest, little
thing really sets them off. So I really think that if we
had therapists, social workers, and counselors on the street,
walking the street, saying, hey, is there anything I
can do to help you? Do you need to talk? You know, I think
that would help a lot. These kids are traumatized. And we, we need to
really take a look at the mental health
issue of all of this.>>If we can go to the community
tie [phonetic], you know, one of the larger
issues that we’re having, and the mayor alluded to this, a
statement by District Attorney, Jack Daneri, when he talks
about the cooperation of everyday citizens
with this thing. We want to show a video
real quick because the issue of cooperation by citizens
has made it difficult, from our understanding, to
resolve some of these issues. Can we go to the tape
real quick, please?>>The community,
friends, family, they’re all begging
people to speak up.>>There’s like the street
code, so much is being labeled to be a snitch, but what
you fail to realize is that when you have
people running around here with shotguns and guns that are
aiming and shooting and killing at innocent kids, there’s no
such thing as street codes. You need to tell.>>Brother D, how much is that unwritten street code
hurting the whole process of trying to resolve
these issues?>>[Sigh] How many
bubbles in a bar of soap? It is killing, it is
killing our ability to resolve some of this stuff. Because, see, if you want to
talk about the street code, where’s the camera, is, make
sure I’m looking at this camera. What happened to the code that said we wouldn’t
shoot around nobody’s kids? What happened to
the code when women and children did not play
a part in our madness? What happened to the
code when a man stood up and went toe to toe with a man? So far as I’m concerned,
any street code that would allow all
these other codes to be broken is just
an illusion? That this thing is killing us! It’s killing us. We got 50 kids on
the playground, 50 kids on the playground
and we firing off bullets and then you’re going to
tell me about a street code? Women getting shot in
they house watching TV? You talking about a street code? Ain’t no street code! Because every game has
rules, and nobody’s playing by the rules so there can’t be
any game, it’s all illusion, it’s the wild, wild west,
do what you want to do, and if this community wants
to survive, it better stand up and it better stand up,
not now, but right now.>>Jeff, you want
to chime in on this?>>[Chuckling] Yep. There’s a story in the paper,
page one today, saying, police are asking for
cooperation, again, how many times have we seen that
on television or in the paper? We never used to
see that before. Police used to have sources
within the community, whether their confidential
sources, you can call them
snitches, or do we call, they called them sources,
that they work their sources. Whether there were minority
officers were in the community and went in the community, and they knew their
own communities well, and they were able to talk
to, and they had the trust and respect of the people who
were in the community as well. Now that doesn’t seem to exist. The police seem to be just
befuddled by the entire thing, and they’re begging for
people to come forward. I, I, I don’t understand how
that could possibly happen, and, Daryl, help me understand.>>I’m going right there
again, looking at the camera, because you say the
keywords, trust and respect. So where there is no trust,
and there is no respect, there’s no communication, now. I believe in Randy Bowers,
I believe it’s a good man, I know he’s a man of faith, and I know that he’s inherited
some problems, but I do believe, according to what the word of
God says, if you want friends, you must show yourself
friendly, and so I won’t try to fix the police
department, that’s up to them, but I know there’s enough
responsibility to go around, even right here at this
set, at this television set, enough of us in this room
could change this city and we could do more, but until
the police department polices itself, and takes ownership of whatever part they find
themselves maybe playing in the disconnect. It’s going to remain,
and the same thing goes for the community. We all have a part in the
disconnect that is just between the community and
the police department. Now Sonya, you’re really active
in the community when it comes to this issue and others,
but I know that this is, for obvious reasons,
your core issue. What are you hearing? Because you, you have
a program that deals with these type of behaviors. You deal with a lot
of young people, you deal with other
mothers in this situation. So, as far as the
cooperation goes and how the community feels
about, whether it’s dealing with law enforcement, whatever. Where is this disconnect to you from the things that
you’ve seen?>>Well it starts at home. You know, and one
thing I have to say as a mother who’s lost
a son to the madness, we need to go back
to tough love. You know, for those mothers out
there, and there are mothers out there who know what their
children are out there doing, you know, coming from me,
if you know your child is out there carrying a
gun and doing things he or she don’t have any business,
you need to turn your child in. Because at the end of the day, I would rather see my child
sitting behind bars trying to change that mindset than
being six foot under somewhere that he or she may
never come from. So we have to do our
part, as parents, we have to go back
to the tough love. We give our children choices,
if they under the age of 18, don’t give them a choice, you
tell them what they need to do. You know, and, and that’s why
the spiritual link is missing in all of this, because
when I was coming up, my mother made us go to
church, and if I said, hey mom, I’m sick, I don’t feel
like going to church, she said, well that’s okay. When you get home,
remember, you sick all day, and I got well real
quick, you know? Because I know when I came home
I wanted to go outside, and, and the reason I
say that, because, because she did that to me. That’s why I’m still
a Christian today.>>And, Sonya, you’re
speaking directly to the data that supports what we’re trying
to accomplish in the community. You mentioned family issues,
it’s a breakdown in family, family conflict is one of
the highest risk factors for the 2011 Pennsylvania
Youth Survey Data. It’s an issue that our
community needs to address because it leads
directly to violence. It leads directly
to delinquency, it leads directly to depression. You also mentioned religiosity. That’s a protective factor. That’s something that we can do,
as a community, to buffer youth from going down these
negative pathways. And the fact that we’re not,
our youth are not connected to a religion, and we’re
not saying which one, but just to have
that in their life, to have that positive
influence to buffer them from those negative
behaviors is an issue. And so those are two
things that, you know, very specifically, we do need
to address as a community.>>You know, something just
dawned on me, because I work on the religiosity council, and one of the things I think
is a very little known fact about that protective
factor, and it is, it is real, the data supports it, that
kids who do participate in religiosity, I think it’s
an hour and a half, or more, a week, even score
better in school. And, and then I think we
need to promote more of that, that should be marketed, you
know, even more intensely than what it has been, and I know that they’ve done
a great job trying to get that word out there, but I know
that at some point it falls into the hands of the
religious institutions to make these conversations come
up and make this data known.>>Behavior, behavior
is learned. Right? And, you know, and I,
and we need to start at a, the young age, the pre-K, some
of the kids today were 16, 17, 18, 19-years-old, I mean, good
luck, we can’t give up on the, but we need to start with the
little ones, and behavior, education, moral, okay,
and I’m not talking about necessarily reli,
religion, although I, I do not dispute what you’re
saying or what Sonya is saying, but I’m talking about that moral
education, and what is right, and what is wrong,
and how to behave. Behavior is a learned process. We all, we all know that. That’s where, that’s
where we need to start. Look, Sonya is, I, I
respect her almost more than anyone else in,
in this community. She’s a very brave woman. What she has done in this
community, taken the tragedy of her life, and
turned it around, okay, to help other people. We need lots more
Sonya Arrington’s, we need lots more Daryl’s, in
our, in our community, but I, I respect both of you for what
you are doing every single day of your lives now.>>Thank you.>>And its proactive versions
of that that we’re looking for in this community,
wouldn’t you say? Because now everyone
is reacting to, because I’ve heard
you say before, what if this was your child? How many times have you
asked that question? And the list of mothers,
and fathers, who are actually sitting in
your seat continues to grow, and so the question
is, well how long, or how many more parents have
to be added to this list? How many more children have
to be added to this list? We’re talking about community. Jeff, I really want
your opinion on this, because I know journalism
is your career. I, I have to go here, because I, I look at this sparring match
that’s starting to develop between Pat Hower and the mayor.>>Okay.>>And I’m reading CNN.com, and
you talk about Bobby Jindal, and he’s speaking just outside
of Lafayette Movie Theater after their deadly shooting
took place there at Thursday, and his quotes are, he
was horrified and shocked. He also says, we will
get through this, he said outside the theater, while investigators were still
examining the crime scene, crime scene, this is a
unified community, he said, this was a leadership moment. And you look at the
interview with the mayor, he seemed a little agitated
at the thought of…>>I, I, I think when we
look at the, the, the, the mayor’s not a
gregarious person and he has a gregarious
personality. He’s not a [inaudible], okay? And he’s not a [inaudible]
and he’s not a, a [inaudible], he’s Joe Sinnott, and he has
his own laidback personality. I think aside from the
violence that are going on, by all accounts,
and on, on balance, he’s not done a bad
job as mayor. Some people believe that
he should be more visible. I think the mayor marching
in a, in, in, in a, in a parade of protest or
going to take back the night, or going to prayer
vigil, that’s not going to stop the shootings
on the street. What’s it going to do? He needs to be running
his police department and making sure, and doing
maybe more than he’s doing, now, but being visible is,
it, is not the answer. Or picking on the mayor for not, for not being visible is not
the answer either, or get, or the mayor writing an op ed
piece that was in the paper and, and complaining about
the Jefferson trustee on the tax issue, that
is not the issue either.>>Well let me offer you
some pushback just based on representing all of
the voices that we’ve seen in the newspaper, because
you’re just talking about an elected official, on
some level, do you not feel like that comes with the job? The visibility aspect of it, and your constituency
is the City of Erie. If nothing else, I, I think a
lot of people take the position of this would show a concern
for your constituency, and, right now, to me, or to
many, it, it makes it feel like it segments the
community more, are we picking and choosing, what, what areas
of time we’re concerned about, you don’t think it
would show concern?>>I think it will, and
I think it goes back to what you said
as a perception. There are people who
believe that if the mayor or some members of council,
only one member of council went to the visual of
the other night, last night I think it was, and,
and he went there particularly because he was a teacher who,
who knew both of the victims in a very personable way. I, I, again, don’t feel
that that visibility in going there is going to do
anything to solve the problem, but as a, from a PR stand, from
a public relations standpoint, [inaudible] is ab,
is absolutely, was, is absolutely correct.>>Can I say something
to that effect? And…I’m going to agree
to disagree with you. Because as a parent who
lost a child, I’m not saying that the mayor has to go to
every vigil, every event, but just to even come out and
talk on TV and say, hey, look, I know what’s going
on in our community. The violence is really
bad, but I want to assure that my police department
is working on it. You know, just say something
to assure the community that he knows what’s going on. When, when you can’t be
seen or you can’t be heard, people think he just don’t care. So even if it takes two minutes
of his time to say something, that’s all we need, we just
want to know that the leader, the top leader in our
community is concerned about what’s going
on in our streets.>>Well hopefully he’s
watching this tonight.>>I, I hope he is!>>And he’s hear, and he’s, and
he’s hearing what you’re saying. Now I know he was a little
slow on the draw, he did, he did do a press conference a
week or so ago, and he announced that he was pointing to the
police to come up with a plan to deal with all this,
but that was a little bit after the [inaudible] being
closed, the doors being closed, [inaudible], he was a little
slow on the draw for that there, so if he’s watching
this tonight, maybe that would,
would help too.>>And that’s, and that’s
not to pick on the mayor, but [inaudible], we’re talking
about an elected official. It’s not like you’re
targeting some private citizen in their home, and hey,
we haven’t seen you, I’m a private citizen, you’ve been elected
by the constituency. It comes with the territory,
and, and I went there because if you look
at all the commentary on whatever social media sites,
newspaper, what have you, that seems to be the narrative,
black, white, rich, poor, male, female, so I was just
curious about that.>>Alright, I under, I
understand that, and I, I hate to see the
argument and the debate in the conversation
get settled down on that when we still needed
to be talking about guns, and the accessibility of
guns and how easy they are, and where do they come from and how these kids are
getting the guns, and such, and I think that needs
to be part of it. The first, the third, the
Second Amendment needs to be part of the conversation.>>But in, in addition
to just access to guns, we have to be looking
at the root causes here. What’s causing you
to want to buy a gun or find a gun or use a gun? And we have all sorts of data that shows we know
exactly what it is.>>And that’s a perfect segway
into our, our midpoint here. We’re talking about the
community wrap-around for this thing. I’m Marcus Atkinson,
we’re here on Erie Now. That concludes the first
half of our program. We’ll return in a few moments
with Sister Marlene Bertke of the Benedictine Sisters
of Erie will join us for a discussion of possible
solutions to the epidemic of violence in our community. [ Music ] We’re back with the second
half of our special broadcast, Erie Now, community violence. I’m your host, Marcus Atkinson. In this half of the program, we’ll focus on the potential
remedies for the violence that has seemed to
spiral out of control in the neighborhoods of Erie. Sister Marlene Berke, can
you talk to us a little bit about the Take Back the Site
vigils that have become so, so well known through
the city and, and seem to be very much
appreciated by the citizens.>>We started these
in the year 2000. We’ve, we’re going to do one
for Justin Wiley this Thursday, that would be our 89th one. We still have four more to
do after the one for Justin. It’s just been overwhelming. The, the television come
to every one of them, and I said to them one
time, you know, why do you, I appreciate your coming, but why are you coming
to each one of these? And they said, Sister, they
read about it in the newspaper or see something on television, but when they see all
these people gathered to, to say we’re tired of violence,
it’s much more effective. When we do the one for Justin
Wiley on this Thursday, that would be our 89th one, we still have four
more to do after that. I mean, that’s overwhelming. I just thank God that
the Sisters of St. Joseph and the sisters of Mercy
now alternate with us. There’s no way that we could
handle all these vigils. I keep a map in the
Benedictines for Peace Office, and I put a little sticker on, where any Take Back
the Site vigil occurs. At first they were
all clustered, now they’re spread out. Like this one on 29th street,
the one on 19th street, they’ve moved away from being
all in, and there’s still many of them in the inner
city, but it’s moving out. You know, I was asked to
go to North East to talk to a group there about our
Take Back the Site vigils, and I said, okay,
but then I thought, they don’t have murders
in the North East. So I said to them, you
know, I’m glad to come, but you don’t have murders
in North East, and they sat for a minute and they said, we
had one in 1958, those people in North East know each other. And I think that
is a big factor. People in Erie, there’s
not a community there. There, there was
once upon a time. When I first came
to Erie in 1973, people would say,
what’s Erie like? And I’d, I said, it’s a very
nice, big, little country town, but that has changed completely. We’re in mini-Detroit now. There was a boy who lived
across, I was living at 345 East Sign
[phonetic] Street, and I was out shoveling snow
one day, and a boy came over and he said, may I
help you shovel snow? And I thought, this
is wonderful. So, he said, anytime
you need help, call me. Two weeks later, he and a
friend of his were walking down Wallace [phonetic], and there were two boys
a block ahead of them, and they decided to rob them. There were four teenage boys,
four guns, that’s ridiculous. I know we do, we can’t…I wish
we could stop the guns coming into Erie.>>Sister Berke brings
up another point with this disconnect, because
you’re talking about Erie used to be this close-knit
community, a big, little town that’s been echoed
by other citizens, Mike, to segway into the
solution phase of it, to tie in what Sister
Bertke’s saying, I know that your
organization, The Unified Erie, deals a lot with identifying
where the issues are, and trying to identify
plausible solutions. Can you talk about that
a little bit for us?>>Sure. You know, we
talked a little bit earlier about family disorganization,
how, you know, there’s just conflict
in, in the homes. The youth are also telling us
that there’s, there’s chaos in their neighborhoods, exactly
what you were speaking to. They don’t feel connected,
they don’t feel safe, and so, based on this data
that has been collected through the Pennsylvania
Youth Survey, it’s completed by students every other year
across the commonwealth, and we’re able to identify
those priority risk factors and protective factors
for our community, again, that relate directly to
those problem behaviors that we’re all trying to,
to reduce in our community. And what we found for,
for Erie County is that community disorganization
has traditionally come to the top of the list. Family conflict,
parents not caring about what their children do, some of those protective
factors, that religiosity, we talked about that earlier
as well, providing you with opportunities
to get involved. They want to be part
of the community. We’re not giving them enough
opportunities, and, moreover, we’re not rewarding
them when they do. There’s no one patting them
on the back, saying, good job, you did something good today. You’re making a difference
for our community. You know, that’s not happening, or it traditionally
hasn’t happened. What’s good news is that
we just received some of the most recent
Pennsylvania youth survey data and we’re making progress. Our risk factors
are being reduced and our protective factors
are moving up, but there’s, there’s still not enough. And what’s important for
the community to know is that we have a violence
reduction strategy called, Unified Erie. Both the city and county
council have passed resolutions in support of it. Organizations throughout
community, including the community
foundation, United Way, or aligning our resources
to help support it, to support evidence-based or
evidence-informed strategies to reduce those specific
risk factors that lead to the problem behaviors, and support those
specific protective factors that are going to buffer
our youth from them. We talked about community
disorganization, society’s changed. Our neighborhoods aren’t
what they used to be. You’re absolutely right. But that doesn’t mean that
we still can’t address those issues. Through Unified Erie and
local and, and state support, we’ve been able to establish
the Neighborhood Resource Organization, which
takes committed folks within their neighborhoods
who want to make a difference and provide them the
resources to do it. Not to just establish
a neighborhood group, but to provide them
resources, mini-grants, so they can beauty their
neighborhood, so they can, so they can create
activities to engage youth. To provide these groups
capacity building support so they know how to
organize, so they know how to recruit new members, so
they know how to interact with, with the youth in
the neighborhood to get them involved,
to give them those positive opportunities. So it’s important for folks
to know that if you do want to make a difference, there’s
a role we can all play, because it’s going
to take all of us.>>Yes, go ahead, sorry.>>One thing, Unified Erie,
one thing that I think that you all should be looking
at is our community centers. The community centers
were built for children. Now if you take a look at
all our community centers, we have a lot of social things
in the community centers. Our community centers is only
being used for, and I must say, at least four hours
a day for kids. Me personally, I think a
community center should be open all day, every day for our kids. If they were open and at least
until 11 o’clock at night, that would keep some of
these kids off the street, where they could basketball,
be supervised and everything, we have to focus
on getting money to these community centers. You know, the kids
in my program, I have a mentoring program, and
my program go from 3:30 to 6:30. When 6:30 come, they’re
not ready to leave! You know? But, I
don’t have the money to keep the Booker T.
Washington Center doors open until 11 o’clock.>>Or the JFK…>>Or JF, right, right, right. You know, we really
need to get back to making these community
centers kid-oriented.>>Jeff, you’ve got a
historical perspective on Erie, and neighborhood
centers I’m sure.>>We’re having, we’re having
the same conversation that went on almost 50, 50 years ago,
when those centers got created, and they got created under
Lyndon Johnson’s great society, and the resources were provided
by the federal government, by the state government, and
the local government supported [inaudible], when, when these
sources, St. Martin’s part of that too, the, the, the
Bayfront NATO, which is now the, I think the Martin Luther King
NATO Center, JFK, and such, they don’t, they’re, they’re
basically a pale reflection of what they used to be,
and so on and saying. I think that resources should
go into that as they were, but what Mike is saying about
that, what I’m hearing is, is neighborhood action
teams, a concept like that, that which I think would be the
way to get right into the route of the neighborhoods, but
to have that organization, as Mike talked about,
having someone from the United Way involved, that had elected officials
involved, and clergy involved, and have a cop on every
one of these teams, have a police officer on
every one of these teams. A trained police officer to
deal with that, have business and industry representatives
on these teams too, because if we’re to recreate
the American dream, then we have to reinvest then in the kids,
what we’re doing with the kids by creating those opportunities
that you talk about by investing in their education,
in their health, and providing those
opportunities and creating those opportunities
so there is something after school for them to, to
have, and to look forward to.>>I’ve sat in on a number
of these conversations, a lot of small organizations
that are starting to spring up all over the place,
streamlining on some level seems to make a lot of sense,
as opposed to having a lot of miniature efforts, you
want the community involved, but on a greater whole,
because it does seem like the community
was much more healthy when these neighborhood
centers were up and running. Would it, would it
help us if these, if a lot of these
efforts were streamlined into the neighborhood
centers as Jeff was saying?>>Definitely. And that’s what I was
just getting ready to say. You know, in doing what I do
with my mentoring program, we, I have more parents
more willing to come into the community center and
sit down and talk to me rather than go into the schools,
or go into anywhere else. You know? Even, even with, with
some issues going on outside, they call us, parents
call us, say, well, I need to have a meeting
with such and such, can I come to the
community center and do it? Of course. You know, so I really
think it’s good if we make, put all those efforts
into going, taking them into the community
center and doing this. We can still do what
you talk about doing, but I think we’ll get a better
turnout, and more people willing to come forward to
the community center, because that’s a
safe haven to them. You know, we all grew up
in our community centers, around our community centers,
and I think if we can get back to using our community centers
like they should be used, we’ll have a better chance on,
on getting a lid on what’s going on with the violence
in our community.>>We’re talking a lot
about connecting, make, bridging gaps in the community. Sister Bertke, here’s what I
notice, I can be in a group of teenagers, 16, 17, 18, the work of the Benedictine
Sisters comes up. I don’t care what color
the people are in the room, what age the people
are in the room, there is a general consensus
that your organization cares. What do you attribute that to? How, how is that
connection so strong?>>I attributed it to the
Benedictine spirituality. We are community-minded
within our community and then within the city. One thing that hasn’t
been very well publicized that the Benedictine
Sisters have done, grouped, four Benedictine moved
into East 22nd Street, and they have transformed
that street. They have a, what they
call a poetry park, they have activities
for the children, one of the sisters who’s
there, Sister Anne McCarthy, said a girl came to her door
to sell Girl Scout cookies, and she said this is the first
time my mother allowed me to go out and do this. She told me I could go to 22nd
Street, because it’s safe now. How do we move 22nd
Street to 23rd, 24th, 25th? The people on 22nd
Street know each other, they have formed
a real community, and I think that’s the
essence of what we need.>>Sounds a lot like the data
that you discussed earlier.>>Yeah, and, you know,
you’re, you’re right, you know, folks feel safe in
certain environments, and they feel connected
to those because they have that historical, you know,
perspective, but what it comes down to is that caring
adults matter. You know, if we’re talking
specifically to youth who feel disconnected. You know, they, they might find
that at school, they might find that at church, they might find
that at their community center, they might find it through
a, a mentor, someone just from their neighborhood. What it comes down to is, you
know, in terms of the place, it, it, it doesn’t necessarily
matter if they have that relationship,
just one positive, long-term relationship
with someone. It doesn’t have to be a
parent, it doesn’t have to be a grandparent, someone that can guide them towards
a positive lifestyle. That can help them make
informed decisions is going to have lasting positive
effects for these youth.>>So in this solution phase,
that’s a huge component of this. Sonya, how do you,
and not assuming that, I don’t think there’s an
end-all be-all answer to this, but just asking, how do you
get the parents involved? I mean, parents,
caregivers, whatever.>>Well, first of all, we got to
go back to community relations. You know, our community needs to have a relationship
with our police. Just think about it. If our community, the
people, the citizens in our community have
a, a better relationship with our police officers, maybe
they might be able to get some of the questions that they
need answered answered, but, you know, we have things going
on with not just the citizens, but at our Erie Police
Department, that need to be addressed.>>Let’s talk about parental
engagement with their youth. I think that would, that’s
where we were going here. We want, we want parents to be
more involved, or grandparents, or, or, or caregivers to be
move involved with their youth, because that’s their
number one mentor, that’s the person
that they look up to. If they see their parents
or their grandparents or their caregivers not caring
about the negative things that they’re doing, they’re
going to keep doing them, or if they see their parents
doing those things, you know, one of the new risk
factors that’s coming up is family history
of antisocial behavior. If all they’re seeing at home
is parents constantly doing bad things, doing drugs,
carrying a gun, they’re going to
do the same thing. That’s the sort of intervention
that, that our community needs to work on, is providing those
resources to the families to let the parents know that
these things aren’t going to work, and if that’s not an
option, connect those youth with caring adults
that will provide that positive influence
in their lives.>>Again, it goes to changing
the behavior and I don’t, I don’t think we used
to have a conversation about how do we change
parent’s behavior, how do we get parents
to parents? How do we get…yeah, you know,
to parent them, that we have to have someone else be,
you know, a mentor for them. What they see, even the media
violence, what they see, they become [inaudible] and
desensitized to the kind, to the kind of violence,
the games that they play, the graphic violence that
is in the games, people die, they get shot, they get
killed, yet the games go on, the shows go on, and we’re all
desensitized a little bit more. Two shootings last, or two
deaths, two murders last week, and we become a little bit
more desensitized and back up a little, a little
bit from that. But again, how do we teach the
parents to be parents, and to, and to parent, and do what
they’re supposed to do. How do we hold them accountable
without making it some kind of crime that they
weren’t being parents, what they were supposed to do.>>Sister Bertke,
chime in on that.>>One thing I want to mention, down at the neighborhood
art house, they have Hooked on Books, one adult
reading to one child. And it has been a marvelous
influence on the children. There was a rather prominent
lawyer who, for three summers, came in and he read to the
same boy all three summers. He didn’t come back the
fourth summer, and this child, on his bicycle, was going
past the [inaudible] and he saw the lawyer. He jumped off the bicycle, grabbed the lawyer,
and said, I miss you. Come back. There was a real
bond formed there, and that happens very much
with the reading program there. We have to find ways to get
adults concerned with the youth.>>So we’ve got civic
leadership, we have parents, we have community
leadership, community centers, we have all of these factors
with the solution question. How do you bring
them all together?>>Well let me say this,
you know, we need to realize that we have babies
having babies out there. So they don’t know any better,
so how are they going to teach, teach their own children? We need to go back to the basics
of parenting classes, and, you know, one thought
that comes into my mind, a lot of these young
individuals, they’re, they’re on welfare. And if you’re going to sign
up and get a welfare check, maybe you could say, hey, since
you, you want to get your check, maybe you should go to parenting
classes maybe once a week or twice a week. They’re going to show up,
because they want that check. We, we have to start
thinking out the box. They’re not going to do it
willingly, so we got to think out the box and figure out
a way that we can get them to go take parenting
classes, because they need it. Just babies having babies!>>So if you’re receiving
some sort of benefit, you’re saying there
should be some kind of stipulations attached
to these benefits.>>Definitely! And, and, and they’re going to
go, because if you say, hey, you’re not going to get
your check, they’re going to be there to that class.>>It’s a thought process that’s
been echoed by a lot of people. Sister Bertke?>>We talk about the
violence of the children. Look at our country. When 9/11 happened, we
had a great opportunity to show the world a
different way of reacting to violence, and we missed it. My idea of a war is you
take the 10 leading persons, the president, vice-president,
etc., of this country, let them fight duels, and
whoever has one person left at the end wins the war. Why send all these young people,
why waste all those people, let the people who want
the war fight the war, and we wouldn’t have
so many wars.>>We’re the only, the
only advanced country where to feel safe,
we have to have a gun. We have to carry a gun. And the Second Amendment to the Constitution’s probably
the most misinterpreted amendment that was ever written,
was designed an amendment, how did it get to be an
amendment that was designed to protect the militia? It was now giving rights to
people to go into grocery stores and to movies and to churches and to teenage parties
with guns. Alright? We need to have
that conversation as well. Okay, this is not about taking
the guns away from the hunters, so hopefully they’re not all
going to running out and saying, oh my goodness, it’s
not about that at all. But it’s about having the
most ad, ad, one of the most, the most advanced,
the most culturally, supposedly civil country in the world now
becoming the most violent, because of our own, because of
our culture that’s repeating itself over and over again.>>Jeff, you mentioned
earlier, alarmed behavior, to kind of go back to
what Sister Bertke was, and her organization’s doing with these Take Back
the Site vigils. Sunday’s vigil was not one
organized by your group.>>That’s right, it’s just
people coming together.>>Just people coming together,
but hundreds of people, to include a lot of
teenagers, showed up, tearful, mourning the loss of these
two young individuals. So, this behavior, this love that your organization has been
modeling, its being imitated. So are we at a place
now, and it’s, it’s sad that we almost have
to say, modeling behavior within your own sphere
of influence, there are church members
that you have influence over, there are neighborhood kids that you have individual
influence over, kids and people at your job, the personal
responsibility aspect of it, are we there, at
that place right now? More so than ever?>>Yep, absolutely. No, I, I think absolutely,
and it goes back to what Mike was
saying in the groups that he was talking
about, it goes back to the community action,
neighborhood action teams, that having the clergy involved,
having the teachers involved, having a, a police
officer involved, the business leaders involved,
and parents involved, parents, such as Sonya, involved
in these, but in every single
neighborhood, not all neighborhoods meet,
have, need the same solutions. Alright? So there’s, you know, its different strokes
for different folks. There’s no one size fits all. But every neighborhood in the
city should have some kind of an action team and
then, as you said Marcus, have a streamlined group
that’s holding it all together, that’s holding it all together. I think that United Way
would be a great place to, you know, for that to begin. I think Jefferson Educational
Society would be another place for that to all come
together as well. But the two of them
working together for that, they’re two perfect
organizations.>>Let me, let me say
something else, Marcus. And, you know, I deal with
a lot of kids in my program, and I get a lot of phone
calls from mothers out there who see their child is heading
down that wrong direction, and they just don’t know what
to do, they call the police, they call the juvenile
probation, well we can’t do anything because your child
hasn’t did anything, and I mean these mothers
are literally crying. We need to come up with a
program for parents like that who do care what path
their child is taking, and maybe if we had
some kind of program that the parent could
say, look, he’s underage, I’m making it mandatory that
he come to this program. I think that would be a good
way to help these kids, too, come up with some
kind of other program, because you got the
parents already willing to do whatever they
can to save their child from heading down
that wrong path.>>I, I got a call from a
group of African American men that are meeting about this
problem and they’re meeting at one the neighborhood centers, I do think that Sonya
made a powerful point about people feeling
more comfortable, because it is really woven
into the fabric of Erie. These neighborhood centers are
a huge part of the upbringing of the parents, grandparents,
aunts, uncles, and cousins, of these young people that are
involved with these shootings. So empowering these neighborhood
centers can do nothing but good in my opinion.>>Who was it who said,
it takes a village? [Laughter]>>Takes a village
to raise a child.>>You know, when we talk
about solutions for this, some people say, let’s
have a gun buyback. That’s ridiculous. Erie had a gun buyback in 1994,
$30,000 dollars, 600 guns. The elderly women and men
were turning in the guns, not the 18 to 24-year-old
men, and many of the people who turned in the guns
said they were going to use that money to get a new gun. St. Louis collected 100,000 guns
over a period of four years. No change in the
violence in the city. Gun buyback, to my mind, is
a ridiculous waste of money. I think if we had started in
the first grade in every school, a curriculum for
conflict resolution, that children would learn
there’s something besides hitting someone if you
were in disagreement. You can talk about it. If we had that, beginning
in the first grade and it went all the way
through high school, I think that would be something. If we had police who were
assigned to walk a beat and stay in that same area all the time.>>Community connection.>>Mmhmm. If we had the,
the neighborhood watches. If we had one of those
in every neighborhood, and I know Steve is
trying to do that, but I think those are great. People get to know each other,
they get to know the police. It’s a great way of having
people come together. The African American concern
clergy are absolutely necessary for this. They had that walk two weeks,
three weeks ago, but they need to get in on this,
the entire spectrum. They could be so powerful. The men in blue, [inaudible],
is a wonderful organization. But the concern, African
American Concern Clergy I think would be one of the
most powerful ways of combatting the
violence in Erie.>>All hands on deck.>>Conflict is a
human condition. It will always be there. Conflict.>>Yes.>>Yet, it’s how we resolve
it, and what Sister is saying, is starting right there in
pre-K, starting kindergarten, in first grade, conflict
resolution. How do we resolve,
resolve this without, without violence,
and it can be done. We’re doing it right here today.>>One of the, one of the
first things Unified Erie did when we identified
family conflict as a risk factor
was looked at all of the existing…organizations
working to address that issue, review them for effectiveness,
and then produce a list for the community, because most of them were being
underutilized. They didn’t have a waiting list. They had space, why,
because people didn’t know about available resources
in our community. And what more, we
found other effective, proven family conflict
resolution programs, and brought them to our
community, that are now in three organizations
that work with children and their parents together. Because a lot of these programs
don’t work with them together. So, you know, we understand
what, what are causing them, and it’s important to, to
recognize that in terms of strategies, in
terms of solutions, the community is working
on finding one’s that work, one’s that are proven to work, one’s that can work
in our community. What’s important, and we
were just talking about this, is we all have a, we all have
a role, its find your role. The clergy have a role,
community leaders, civic activists have a
role, parents have a role, children have a role, but if we
don’t know what that role is, if we don’t know how
we can, we can be part of the positive community
change, it’s not going to happen.>>You, you know what else that
I think that would be powerful for our community, Marcus? We have all these young men
reentering our community that’s coming out of prison. You know, even like in
my mentoring program. The, the mentors
I have are young, young men who’ve been there and
done that, and we have a lot of young men in our community
that has come out of prison, has changed they
life for the better, if we can team all these men up
and be mentors to these kids, and let these kids, look,
if you continue to do this, this is what’s going
to happen to you. That would be powerful,
because the, the, the male is the missing
link in a, in, in 98 percent of
these kid’s lives. They live in single parent
homes with just the mothers, and they’re missing
that male role model. My kids was blessed to be
raised by a mother and a father, but a lot of these other kids,
they don’t have that privilege.>>Well and one of the
other, the, the third problem of Unified Erie, it’s
prevention, enforcement, and reentry, is the fact that our community didn’t have
an effective reentry strategy. We didn’t have one. So those potential role
models, the resid, recidi, recidivism rate was so high they
were going right back to prison. We’re at the point now where
we’re going to have a plan, where we can make the, help those folks become
productive members of society, and to become role models.>>Alright, and we’ll close the
show out on the excellent point. Everyone, we thank you for
your, for being with us today. We thank you for
your points of view. We’ve run out of time for this
special broadcast of Erie Now. We’ve had a compelling
and robust conversation of both the issues that have
contributed to gun violence, and the potential remedies. I want to thank our
distinguished guests for their input. And we’d like to thank you
for tuning into this program. We hope that we’ve
been better informed, that you’ve been
better informed, and we’ve inspired
you, our viewers, to take action in our community. Please continue this
discussion with us. You can visit our website at
wqln.org, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter at
WQLN, and use hashtag Erie Now. For Erie Now, I’m your
host, Marcus Atkinson. [ Music ]

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