Keeping communities safe and strong

Have you ever heard of Antwan Brooks of Lanham? Did you know that he was shot dead in Capitol Heights? Did you read about the man that was stabbed on a W4 Metro bus in the middle of the afternoon near Pennsylvania and Southern avenues? Unless you’re a dedicated reader of the “Local Digest” section of the Washington Post’s Metro section – the odds are you answered “no” to both of these questions.

I ask these questions in light of a recent event organized by the police departments of Prince George’s County and the District, along with a number of churches and community organizations.

“Unity in the Community…Beyond Borders” was billed as a “Unity walk to show collaboration and cooperation between Prince George’s County and the District of Columbia as we ban together to fight crime in and around our communities.”

Marchers gathered at Eastover shopping center and heard words of encouragement from police, clergy and local elected officials. The crowd was a mix of enthusiastic folks – young and old – committed to a show of unity and to connecting with people along the route. As we marched up Southern Avenue, cars honked their horns as walkers yelled out for peace in our communities.

As we ascended the hill, people asked what we were up to. A feeling of pride welled up in me as I said we were marching for unity and peace in our neighborhoods. As a young boy raced by, calling out about how fast he could run up the hill, two young girls discussed school and other issues that any 10-year-old might discuss on a Friday afternoon. I told Pastor Tony Lee of Community of Hope A.M.E. church that I felt like we were walking in the legacy of those who marched during the Civil Rights Movement.

The good feelings continued as we arrived at the Southern Avenue Market place. Marchers spoke people at the adjacent apartment complex – described by one police officer as a place that used to be a place overrun by drugs and crime.

Mothers with young children came by and ate free hot dogs and ice cream as McGruff the Crime Dog mingled with the crowd (Note to officials: little kids tend to be scared by a big dog in a trench coat!).

Watching MPD officers dance with community youth, clergy leaders talking with local residents while service providers and game attendants cheerfully engaged with people made me think: We are doing something good here.

Over the next two weeks, I read about Antwan’s death and a stabbing on a Metro bus in the middle of the day. Both stories were sobering reminders that there is still much work to be done. The same spirit of cooperation and commitment to improving our community that brought law enforcement, churches and community groups together at the march must be channeled into sustained and committed action if we are to end the scourge of murder and violence in our communities.

Police need to continue to move beyond the geographic and bureaucratic borders that can stifle cooperative crime-fighting and community engagement work.

Houses of worship need to move beyond the denominational and “we’ve never done that before” borders that too often keep them from engaging in proactive, sustained outreach to distressed neighbors in collaborative efforts that build off of respective strengths that different houses of worship have and strengthen residents and community bonds.

Community organizations need to move beyond the “if they get some money or attention we won’t get any shine” borders that lead to petty disputes and a lack of leveraging community-based resources in an effective and efficient manner.

This spirit of sustained outreach is exemplified in the work that Rev. Donald Isaac has led for years with East of the River Clergy, Police Community Partnership. From “Girl Talk” programs for teenage girls to providing housing and counseling services for citizens returning from prison - ERCPCP represents sustained collaboration.”

As long as one person is murdered in our neighborhood, as long as one child fears for his safety walking to or riding home from school – there is still work to be done. Let’s all keep walking and working together to make our communities safer and stronger.

David Bowers is a native Washingtonian and ordained minister who works in the affordable housing industry.

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