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Council hears from residents on youth violence

A standing-room-only crowd jammed Wednesday’s Suffolk City Council meeting, demanding that lawmakers get a grip on the rising wave of youth and gang violence that has swept across the city recently.

“Your community is here and we are ready to help,” said Twainna Parker Boone, during the public comment portion of the meeting. “We are ready to go to work and retrieve our city.”

Just hours before, during its work session, city leaders unveiled plans to establish a multi-agency task force to tackle the issue that the Suffolk Police Department has been monitoring for the past couple of years.

The task force will include input from law enforcement, schools, the judicial community, as well as churches, civic organizations and interested citizens. An Office on Youth is in the city’s long-range plan.

City Manager R. Steven Herbert is expected to come back with details on the task force in the next few weeks, said Mayor Bobby Ralph. It’s not been determine how volunteers will be selected to serve, he added.

“While we can’t implement every recommendation … we definitely want input from the public,” he said. “We are going to develop a plan that people will buy into.

“Schools, churches and most importantly, parents, have got to buy into the plan for it to work.”

Three Suffolk teenagers have been shot to death in the past six months. All of the suspects charged in the shootings are either teenagers or young adults.

A half dozen religious leaders spoke Wednesday night, with all of them saying the city has reached a critical point and that communication is vital to saving the lives of the young people.

“You really need to listen to our young people,” said the Rev. Wallace Johnson. “You need to meet them and let them tell you how they feel. These families are losing generations. It’s time to stop talking and do something.”

The Rev. Henry Baker praised the council’s willingness to step up to the plate to tackle the problem. But, he said, he had hoped to learn more specifics at the earlier meeting about how the task force would work.

“I’m glad religion is involved,” he said. “The lives of our young people are at stake … and you have indicated that you are willing to do something. This entire city pays a heavy price when the safety of children is involved.”

A Suffolk teacher, Janet Curran, said the educational community needs to be involved.

“There is a wealth of willingness among the city’s teachers and coaches. Kids talk to us; they tell us things they don’t tell other people. And these kids are seeing their friends dying.”

She came before council with several suggestions: establishing an anonymous youth-crime hotline, opening a recreation facility in the former Lowe’s Home Improvement building on Godwin Boulevard, providing after-school bus transportation for youth using the city’s recreation centers, and even establishing a gang ministry.

Under standard policy, council member do not verbally respond to issues brought up during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Contact Williams at allison.williams@suffolknewsherald.com