This has been a difficult summer in Atlantic City.
And an encouraging one.
In some neighborhoods, shots were fired almost nightly. And sometimes, in broad daylight. There have been 13 homicides in the city so far this year. In one, a bullet ricocheted off a stoop and struck a baby.
But if the five Stop the Silence community cookouts are any indication - and we think they are - the people of Atlantic City have had enough and are pushing back. Against the violence, against the no-snitching culture that enables the violence, and against the alienation that seems to have infected an entire generation of young people who think the slightest dispute or "dis" should be settled with a gun.
Dewane Parker, the chief of security for the city's schools, organized the cookouts with help from many in the community. Parker also spearheaded the creation of a Stop the Silence video this summer to encourage people to cooperate with police. And a weekly midnight walk by community members through the city's more troubled neighborhoods was also instituted.
The five cookouts, which attracted a total of 2,500 people over the course of the summer, were pretty basic stuff. Hot dogs and hamburgers, churches and community groups at tables offering information about programs and events, demonstrations by police, firefighters and the U.S. Coast Guard.
So why is that so important? Several reasons.
First, in a city where much of the violence stems from mere neighborhood rivalries - housing complex vs. housing complex, school vs. school - the cookouts showed Atlantic City's young people that they are part of a larger community, a community that cares about them, a community that speaks as one. That's a crucial message to send.
Second, the cookouts provided a way for children and adults to meet and interact with police officers in a relaxed, nonconfrontational setting. Police Chief Ernest Jubilee is acutely aware that his department must build relationships with the people it serves.
Finally, the cookouts resulted in some hard information about some of the shootings being provided to police by community members.
As we said above, many people in Atlantic City contributed to these cookouts and other Stop the Silence events this summer. But it would be wrong not to note the special role of Dewane Parker. Atlantic City youths seeking a role model don't have far to look.