Philly Seeks 10,000 Men to Guard Streets

By MARYCLAIRE DALE
The Associated Press
Thursday, September 13, 2007; 7:46 PM

PHILADELPHIA -- The city's embattled police chief, acknowledging that police alone cannot quell a run of deadly violence, has called on 10,000 men to patrol the streets to reduce crime.

Sylvester Johnson says black men, in particular, have a duty to protect more vulnerable residents. He wants each volunteer to pledge to work three hours a day for at least 90 days.

"We are definitely encouraging black men to be involved in it," Johnson told The Associated Press on Thursday. "We have an obligation to give back. We have an obligation to protect our women, our children, our elderly."

But Johnson said he would not turn away men of other races.

"We have to put the tourniquet where we're bleeding at this point," he said. "We're not restricting anybody."

The program's backers include Dennis Muhammad, a former Nation of Islam official who has been hired by police departments in Detroit, Syracuse, N.Y., and other cities to conduct community-sensitivity training.

Philadelphia, the nation's sixth-largest city, has nearly 1.5 million residents, 44 percent of them black. It has notched 294 homicides this year. More than 80 percent of the slayings involve handguns, and most involve young black males.

Johnson plans to introduce the "Call to Action: 10,000 Men, It's a New Day" program on Oct. 21, three months before his planned retirement.

"He won't get anywhere near that number. If he gets 1,000 people, it will be great," said Heather DeRussy, who leads a local Guardian Angels chapter that has recruited just seven members in the past two years. Given its size, the group focuses on a single north Philadelphia park plagued by prostitution and drug use.

DeRussy lauded Johnson for his effort but said she fears the volunteers will find it dangerous to patrol their home turf.

"In their own neighborhoods, with the 'Don't snitch' mentality, they're kind of putting themselves in harm's way, because there are going to be people who disagree with what they're doing," DeRussy said.

The men who join Johnson's program will not carry weapons or make arrests but will instead emphasize conflict resolution, similar to the Guardian Angels' ground rules.


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