Relatives of slain teens, community leaders, educators, parents and students joined county officials at a town hall meeting Monday night in Prince George’s County to address the violence in the county that has claimed the lives of six students in the past six months.
The standing-room-only crowd of nearly 300 people filled the gymnasium of the Suitland Recreation Center. Many of the speakers expressed frustration over the recent killings.
“These violent acts of murder really have traumatized our community and our police department,” said Police Chief Mark A. Magaw. “It has to stop.”
Everyone was looking for ways to prevent the violence. Some suggested assessing current resources, including mentoring and conflict-resolution programs. Others said the high school dropout rate has to be addressed.
State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said the community has to work together to change a culture in which some people have placed a higher value on a pair of shoes than on a person’s life.
Alsobrooks was referring to the fatal shooting last week of Charles Walker Jr., a 15-year-old freshman at Suitland High, who was shot in the back as he ran from someone who tried to steal a pair of Timberland boots that Walker had bought for his girlfriend.
“There is something terribly wrong in our community,” Alsobrooks said.
Council member Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) said programs can only go so far to stop the violence.
“Nothing is going to replace a good father in a household,” he said.
Walker was the fifth student killed since school started in late August. About 24 hours later, a sixth teenager was fatally shot.
Some people at the meeting said the community has to have an honest discussion about responsibility to address the root cause of the violence.
C.J. Blair, a minister from Laurel, said parents, schools, churches and even radio stations have to share in the responsibility.
“If we are going to be real, we’ve got to hold everybody accountable,” Blair said to sustained applause.
Radio personality Angie Ange of Radio One, which sponsored the town hall, said: “All of us can say we play a part in the destruction of our young people.”
She said the discussion was a way to figure out a way to “create change.”
Senior staff members of County Executive Rushern L. Baker’s administration said a group of representatives from the police department, social service agencies and nonprofits will work with the county’s Transforming Neighborhood Initiative in an effort to solve social problems in six troubled areas of Prince George’s, including Suitland.