ATLANTIC CITY — After a violent beginning to the year saw three killings and several shootings, residents and community leaders came together Monday night to try to make real change.
“If you’re going to change the situation, you’ve got to be real, first,” said Imam Amin Muhammad, of Masjid Muhammad Mosque.
Residents met at Union Baptist Temple close to where 13-year-old Angel Mercado-Santiago died Jan. 8, allegedly at the hands of a 14-year-old high school freshman. The goal was to come up with ideas for change that will go to four committees, which will return Feb. 24 to discuss their findings. They will be on violence, education, social issues and economics.
Less than 14 hours before the meeting, a 20-year-old Pleasantville man was shot in the head in the city’s Back Maryland section. Corey Brown Jr. was listed in critical condition Monday following emergency surgery, police said.
Residents agreed that metal detectors in all the schools are important, as is security for students.
But the violence is happening outside the schools, Councilman Mo Delgado pointed out.
“We have to do all hands on deck,” he said. “We shouldn’t be fearful of our own. This is our blood. These are our children.”
And those who are lost need someone who understands to bring them back, pointed out Muhammad, who touched on his own past that included some of the problems many of the youth are experiencing.
God led him out, he says. But others may take different routes. To get them there, it will take someone they know who has been there.
“You need to fill the gap between the problem and the solution,” Muhammad said. “You need something in the middle. That’s where we need to be.”
He gave credit to those such as Kaleem Shabazz, who organized Monday’s event, and the Temple’s Rev. Ezekiel Bey, who are doing their part.
“You need to divide the labor,” Muhammad said.
“For two years I’ve been coming to things like this, and it’s always the same people,” said Mariangeli Calderon, whose mother, Maria Diaz, has been leading a street-level campaign against the violence. “Why can’t we bring the youth in here.”
Councilman Marty Small said those children that need help need to be identified and then help given.
“We need a comprehensive mentoring program dealing with the kids that need to be dealt with,” he said.
Six schools were impacted by the killing of Mercado-Santiago, said schools security Chief Dewane Parker, as it affected friends and classmates of both the victim and accused killer.
Residents called for metal detectors in all the schools, which Parker said has been discussed. Currently, metal detectors are in the high school and the alternative school, Viking Academy
In his 13 years here, Parker said, there has never been a firearm found in any of the city’s schools.
“It’s outside of the schools,” Diaz said. “It’s on the streets. This is what I fight for everyday.”
That’s because many of those who need to be reached have already left the system.
“We are losing our students because of outside influences,” said Linda Steele, president of the local NAACP.
While those students on the college track “get two bites of the apple,” those who don’t see college in their future need to know there are alternatives, learning vocations “and find some sort of incentive, some sense of worth.”
Mayor Don Guardian told those gathered that he and City Council are available to help. He suggested that police Chief Henry White and Judge James Jackson — who heads the Juvenile Court — be invited to the next meeting to hear concerns and also share their knowledge.
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