Top law enforcement officials from the District and Prince George's County vowed yesterday to work together with community activists on a new campaign to steer youths away from gun violence.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and Prince George's County Police Chief Melvin C. High were among those expressing support for Guns Aside, a grass-roots venture designed by the father of a slain Washington businessman.
Kenneth E. Barnes Sr., whose son was killed in a robbery in 2001, said he hopes to emulate the work of organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving. He said he plans a public service campaign, workshops, mentoring programs and a pledge drive to sign up youths who promise to stay away from firearms.
After his son's death, Barnes created a nonprofit organization called Reaching Out to Others Together that supports families of homicide victims. The Guns Aside initiative is his latest attempt to bring together government agencies, support groups and social service organizations. It comes at a time when the number of juvenile homicides is surging in the city and when the number of killings overall is on the rise in Prince George's County.
"I can't tell you of any other greater hurt than to have your child murdered. That's why I fight so hard," Barnes, who lives in the District, said yesterday.
He said he plans a massive anti-gun campaign. "Everywhere they look, they're going to see this message about Guns Aside," he said.
Children are caught up in the culture of violence that permeates many neighborhoods, Barnes said, but they are unable to end it. "Children don't want this," he said. "The bulk of children are fed up. They're scared."
Yesterday's announcement also drew endorsements from D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), the top prosecutors from the District and Prince George's County, leaders of churches, youth organizations and community groups and the families of some recent young homicide victims.
The event took place on the same afternoon that the House approved a bill repealing most of the District's gun laws, an action that drew outrage from the mayor, Ramsey and others. The measure now goes to the Senate, where even its advocates acknowledge that it has little chance of approval.
Speakers included Francine Lowe, whose 15-year-old daughter, Myesha, was fatally shot in July as she sat in a car in Northeast Washington. "She was just at the wrong place at the wrong time," Lowe said. "I'm just here to say, 'Please stop the violence in D.C.' "
Barnes's son, Kenneth E. Barnes Jr., was 37 when he was gunned down inside his U Street clothing store, Boutique U, in September 2001 by an 18-year-old who was a runaway from a city-funded group home.
Barnes said yesterday that he hopes government officials will cover some of the costs of the Guns Aside program. The mayor made no financial guarantees but said, "I'm willing to work with anybody and everybody to contribute to this effort."
"We've got a lot of work to do," Williams said. "Let's make this effort the lasting legacy and monument to our children."
Some of the most poignant speakers were the youngest.
Cortez Carter, 13, an eighth-grader at Hart Middle School in Southeast Washington, told the audience how his father was shot and killed in 1998.
"I don't have anybody to call a father," Cortez said. "The only people that should really have guns are the police and the Army."
Staff writer Jamie Stockwell contributed to this report.