Here's the way to turn the tide against crime, three leaders of successful programs in Boston and New Haven, Conn., told a crowd of 100 people at a community meeting last night:
Make police officers known to residents. Hold an all-day youth summit hosted by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). Promote zero tolerance for violence.
About 100 people, including D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, applauded those and other ideas at the meeting at Mount Bethel Baptist Church on Rhode Island Avenue NW, an area beset with gun and drug violence.
The Rev. Eugene F. Rivers, co-founder of the Boston Ten-point Coalition, which brought together religious leaders to help fight crime, told the crowd to get involved rather than just depend on officials. He challenged Williams, who did not attend, to hold a youth summit and spend a day listening to the concerns of young people. He advocated collaboration rather than political bickering.
"There's a generation of young people drowning in their own blood because of the sins of the fathers," Rivers said in a meeting that was part revival and part forum. "We've got to mobilize."
Audience members gave Rivers a standing ovation, and cries of "Let's get to work," echoed in the church.
After a series of high-profile shootings this summer, including the killing of a grandmother in Southeast, Williams and Ramsey have said they are examining programs that cities such as Boston have used to try to combat gang violence.
Murders in Boston plummeted to 35 last year, the lowest number since 1961. D.C. recorded 260 last year, the lowest since 1987.
Last night's panel also included Najma Nazy'at, head of the Youth Workers Alliance, Boston's network of people who work with youths.
She said adults needed to believe in teenagers, rather than seeing them as just the cause of trouble.
Former New Haven police chief Nicholas Pastore outlined several of the town's initiatives, including a Yale University-sponsored program that teams up officers and clinicians to make house calls on children who are either witnesses to or victims of violence.
Ramsey said in an interview that Williams is interested in holding a youth summit. Ramsey said he is also is talking to church leaders to model Boston's programs.
At the meeting, he urged the crowd to work with police. "We need people who are totally committed," he said. "It's up to the community to see that it's safe and secure."
Deborah Gross, who lives near Mount Bethel Baptist Church, said she was optimistic that the District could duplicate the success of Boston and New Haven.
"There are some places in D.C. where it's working," she said. "We just need to come together."