A coalition of 150 ministers yesterday announced ambitious plans to take services to the streets and develop new partnerships with police to help reduce violent crime in Prince George's County
"All of us are affected by the crime rate in our county," said the Rev. C. Anthony Muse, pastor of the Ark of Safety Christian Church and head of Clergy United, the group that unveiled the proposal at the Upper Marlboro church. "We are burying these young people. It is affecting the families.''
Flanked by dozens of ministers, Muse said the four-point initiative calls on churches to identify families affected by crime, provide emergency assistance and shelter to victims of domestic violence, work with businesses to create job training programs and form partnerships with police.
The effort comes at a time when the numbers of homicides, rapes, carjackings and robberies in Prince George's are higher than in the same period last year.
Lt. Steve Yuen, spokesman for the Prince George's County police, said that although county law enforcement officials were not aware of the initiative, "the department is enthusiastic to work with the faith-based community to improve our county. We will be open to discuss any ideas with them."
Muse said pastors could do much more to help police solve crime, because in some cases, the family members of the suspects are right in their pews every Sunday.
"Instead of being at church on Thursday and Friday night, we need to be in the street," Muse said. "Pastors need to ride with the police officers. We are calling on all churches to cross the line."
Last Friday, another coalition of pastors transformed the parking lot of the Master's Child Worship Center in District Heights into an open-air sanctuary. Marlboro Pike and Brooks Drive is a deadly intersection where several people have been fatally shot in recent months. The Rev. Simeon Corum, who organized the effort, said that in the next few weeks his group will hold church services in a number of communities plagued with violence.
Corum, the pastor of the Goshen Worship Center in Alexandria, said he decided to hold the event in Prince George's County because he is a resident of Upper Marlboro and recognizes the need along the D.C.-Maryland border.
"My nephew Terrone Corum was fatally shot on New York Avenue in February,'' Corum said. "He was at a gas station getting gas. The police can only do so much. It is time for the churches to stand up and preachers to come out of the pulpit.''
Although church leaders have launched similar programs over the years, Muse said the latest effort is needed because many churches do not work with each other. He also cited what he called a growing adversarial relationship between churches and government leaders.
Some strain was noticeable yesterday when Prince George's County Council Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) told the group that some churches were not doing enough to address the problems in the community. He said he hopes relations will improve.
The pastors said they hope for a better relationship with Dean and other elected officials, but they defended their work.
"The politicians have focused so much on the mega-churches in the county from a land use perspective until they have not looked at the contributions being made by the smaller churches," said Robert White, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Forestville. "Our church has a partnership with Longfields Elementary where we provide textbooks, school supplies and even shoes for the children.''
The Rev. Michael Oxentenko, a popular radio minister on WAVA-FM and pastor of Reaching Hearts International Church in Burtonsville, said that instead of having a hostile attitude, county leaders should welcome more partnerships with the faith community.
Apostle Gerald Grandison, senior pastor of Greater Rock Temple of Praise in Mount Rainier, said the partnership that churches have developed with the police in that community helped to defuse a potentially explosive gang problem.
"A boy was attacked by several gang members, we contacted the family, we contacted the young men causing the problem and at this time the rift has been satisfied," Grandison said.
Muse said he plans to invite the pastors of the more than 800 churches in the county to a summit on the issue this fall.