WARREN - City and community leaders held a frank discussion Tuesday about changing the culture of violence that has grown in the city. They said they want to reach out to young people and give them alternatives to negative anti-social behaviors.
Nearly 200 people crowded into New Freedom Missionary Baptist Church, 1590 Tod Ave., to listen to seven speakers discuss an effort to reduce the level of violence that has risen in the city over the last several years.
The Peace Summit was sponsored by Warren Neighborhood Leadership Council and Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward.
Bob Fiatal, an assistant attorney general, suggested one way to reduce gun violence is to copy a program that began in Boston in which community leaders, clergy and law enforcement officials reached out to young people to tell them they are tired of the grief and pain caused by perpetrators of crime and they have to stop it.
"If they do not, they will end up dead or injured," Fiatal said. "We have to give them a way out of that life."
Fiatal added that the young people also must know that law enforcement, at every level, knows who they are and with whom they associate.
"If they are members of a gang that shoots someone, they will become of special interest to law enforcement," he said.
Rhonda Bennett, a longtime activist with Southwest Neighborhood Association, said residents are tired that their children have nowhere to go and seniors being locked in their homes because of crime in the neighborhoods.
Bennett described one store in the southwest side where people were afraid to go because of the drug activities happening in and around it.
"We became proactive," she said. "We spoke to the owner and the people who was hanging around it. It eventually closed. The amount of drug activity in the area declined."
Bennett emphasized what affects one side of the city affects the entire community.
"When people move, they generally do not move from one side to another, but out of the city," she said. "We need to be involved. Police can only do so much."
She suggested when people see crimes, they can report it anonymously by using hot spot cards.
Guy Burney, founder of the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence in Youngstown, said that everything that's needed to reduce crime and violence is already in the community if people are willing to step up and get involved.
"People, churches, community organizations and others have to be willing to become involved in the lives of young people," he said. "They want to know that people want to invest in them."
Burney said his program works on pillars of intervention and prevention.
Terrell Graham, an ex-offender and a spokesman with United Returning Citizens Coalition, is working with young people to tell them about his life and warn them about the damage they are doing to their communities and how they may end up in prison or worse.
Graham said he and others of his generation helped create some of the violent young people out there today by not being in their lives, through drug use, and by being poor examples. Graham said they must work on intervention, prevention and solutions in order to curb the amount of violence that is happening.
"Gangs are community kids who have no hope," he said. ''We must show them alternatives to the lives they are living now."
Mayor Doug Franklin described being at other anti-violence programs over the years and seeing many of the same faces that attended Tuesday's meeting.
"We have to reach out to the people who are not in this room," Franklin said. "We have to reach out to young people on the streets.''
Jason Franklin, a city resident and the executive director of Preserving Lives Youth Development Organization, which focuses on education, leadership development and family ties in the Urban community, said he was impressed with the issues brought up in the meeting.
"I believe this meeting was a start in getting things started in the right direction," he said. "We need more solutions and events like this that's going to have purpose to them."
Rose Bell called the program informative, but said she would like to have heard more concrete answers.
"In my position as a property manager at Hampshire House Apartments I would like to see more police visiting property and more results," she said.
The Rev. Lutrica Hall of Restoration Christian Church in Champion said she went to the meeting to find out is being done to address crime in the community and what she could do to help.
"After hearing what was said, I'm confident that things have already been started and more things will be coming into the future to help the city," she said.
James Gavin was pleased with suggestions presented by the panelists.
"They opened up a needed dialogue," Gavin said. ''That is the first thing that is needed to get some things accomplished. They should do more things like this and attack social media more to reach the young people that are the target of this discussion."
Richard C. Rollison III, whose son was killed earlier this year, said this meeting was a first step in stopping the violence happening in the city.
"I lost my son in October," he said. "I was just like a lot of other people sitting back, not saying nothing and not doing nothing, because I never thought the violence would come to my household."
Rollison says he now is committing the rest of his life in reversing the cycle of violence.
"The next step is getting more kids to these meetings," Rollison said. "We have to address them to make a positive reaction to what was said tonight."