A sister talks about keeping pressure on authorities to charge someone in her brother's murder. Police officers talk about the difficulty of solving such crimes when an entire community is afraid to speak up. A principal talks about the importance of making his school an oasis of security and support in a dangerous neighborhood.
These are the voices heard after the violence - after a shooting, usually drug-related, has taken another life in the poor neighborhoods of Atlantic City and Pleasantville. For four days, in a series by Press staff writers Lynda Cohen and Wallace McKelvey, these voices have told the story of violent crime - and the people who live with it every day.
The problems of these neighborhoods are common in other poor urban areas. Young men grow up in a culture that glorifies a lifestyle of easy money and swift retribution. Some are drawn into street gangs for protection, or by the false promise of wealth and a sense of belonging. Violence sparks cycles of retaliation, and sometimes the innocent are caught in the middle.
In spite of the violent crime, the neighborhoods remain tight-knit communities. That works both ways. Residents frustrated with the pace of investigations into shootings are still reluctant to give police information about people they grew up with. But the closeness of the community also offers hope, in the form of people who are trying to fight the violence. And these people now see an opportunity to retake their communities, to turn things around.
While the neighborhoods remain violent places, the number of killings is down this year. Authorities attribute this to sweeping arrests in the spring that targeted two drug gangs. And this lull may be a chance to change the dynamic of the neighborhoods.
That will mean guiding the next generation away from the street life. This can be as simple, and as difficult, as giving children a broader view of the world, and changing the way they see themselves and the opportunities that are open to them.
Some dedicated people are trying to change the atmosphere of the neighborhoods with community walks, barbecues, outreach by police and a cooperative effort between the two cities. One anti-violence advocate described part of the program as "weed and seed" - taking criminals off the street and bringing in social services at the same time.
Such efforts will be successful only if they are ongoing. The people of Pleasantville and Atlantic City must make a long-term commitment to extending this season of hope.
Because when you stop seeding, the weeds come back.