Monday, October 22, 2007

Thousands of black men to help patrol violent city

By Los Angeles Times and Reuters

Music mogul Kenny Gamble, left, and entertainment executive Charlie "Mack" Alston joined in Sunday's call to action.

PHILADELPHIA — A month after civic leaders and the police chief in this crime-plagued city called for 10,000 black men to patrol the streets, thousands arrived Sunday by foot, car, motorcycle, bus, in wheelchairs, with sons and nephews in tow.

"Sign up here!" a volunteer shouted to the long line of men circling Temple University's athletic center. "Be a part of history!"

With 6,000 already registered online, more than 7,000 men showed up Sunday. They wore suits, fraternity letters, job uniforms, T-shirts emblazoned with the face of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X or the words "Stop the Violence."

Many waited more than an hour in line to register, although they did not know much about how they would be trained or deployed to curb violence. But all agreed they wanted to end the killings and drug wars that have seized their neighborhoods.

More than 300 people have been killed here this year. Last year, there were 406 homicides, and most involved black males.

The homicide rate has defied repeated appeals by police and civic and community leaders, and has led national media to dub Philadelphia "Killadelphia" instead of its official nickname, the City of Brotherly Love.

"It's the first step," said Ronald Morris Sr., 50, a middle-school teacher who brought his 16-year-old son to the event. "I hope to try to awaken the spirit of these guys," said Morris, whose son has lost two friends to violence.

Volunteers, who will be unarmed and have no powers of arrest, will be trained in conflict resolution and mentoring.

At neighborhood orientations, they'll also learn how to direct residents to education, jobs and services such as drug treatment, the Baltimore Sun newspaper reported.

The sessions will begin Tuesday and take place throughout the next few weeks. Volunteers are expected to be sent into the streets on three-hour patrols within the next 30 days.

Backers, including Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson and record-industry boss Kenny Gamble, say the initiative has a better chance of succeeding than earlier anti-violence campaigns because it is broadly representative of the black community, rather than led by the city government or police, who are mistrusted in some inner-city areas.

It has been endorsed by more than 80 community groups, businesses, churches and government agencies, organizers said.

But others, including City Councilman Michael Nutter, are more measured in their endorsements: "I want to be careful about asking people to go into the streets," he recently told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The call to participate was directed at black men, but organizers said all were welcome. The majority of those who attended Sunday were black.

In a two-hour rally, black leaders urged men to take responsibility for their communities and their families, and to stop blaming others for a history of economic underachievement.

"Slavery, at this late time, is no longer an acceptable excuse," said A. Bruce Cawley, a prominent black businessman.

He said that in the 325 years blacks have lived in Philadelphia, they have been overtaken in prosperity by immigrant Irish, Jews, Italians and now Asians and Hispanics.

"And where are we? We are sitting on the sidelines," Cawley said.

Johnson, whose department has been criticized for failing to curb the homicide epidemic, said police cannot be blamed for its root causes, such as poverty, unemployment, poor education and weak gun control.

"Traditional policing is not working," he said.

Chandlan Crawford, 38, a forklift driver from southwest Philadelphia, said he had already volunteered to join a street patrol and was optimistic that the thousands who attended Sunday's rally would generate more support.

"The people that are here will take the message out there," he said.

A supporter displays a sign Sunday as thousands of black men registered as volunteers to combat Philadelphia's violence.

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