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Forum attendees call for unity, added safety

York Schools superintendent Russell Booker shoots hoops with young people Saturday at the York City Recreational Center before a forum was held to talk about the recent gang activity. Booker said the keys to stopping gang activity are working together and building relationships with the children.
York Schools superintendent Russell Booker shoots hoops with young people Saturday at the York City Recreational Center before a forum was held to talk about the recent gang activity. Booker said the keys to stopping gang activity are working together and building relationships with the children.

YORK -- Youth talked, and York leaders listened.

"Get all the gang violence off the street," a lone male teen said.

"Why don't y'all build a bowling alley or something?" another asked.

"How about a bigger movie theater?" a little voice called out.

More than 150 people turned out Saturday at the York Recreation Center in what officials called a conversation to unite York communities. The forum was held in the wake of a deadly gang shooting Sept. 11.

As youth sat atop the gym floor and meted out their solutions, a school official translated what the youth could not say.

"Stuff to do," Oliver Love said as parents and others nodded their heads in approval and clapped their hands.

One woman suggested keeping youth busy might keep some of them out of trouble.

"This is a moment for us to take back our community," said Steve Love, president of the Western York County branch of the NAACP.

During the forum, leaders and parents called for unification and strengthening in their communities in the wake of a series of shootings and fights that police say triggered the gang-related fatal shooting. The incident claimed the life of Dawud Chester, a member of the Valley Boys gang, and wounded a man police said is linked to the Cali Boys gang.

"What happened two weeks ago impacted everybody and it continues to impact," said a dressed down York schools Superintendent Russell Booker. "It's going to take all of us working together. Let's start building relationships with our children."

York City Councilwoman Josephine Castle issued a blunt statement during the gathering.

"Gangs and guns are real," Castle said, adding, "We can work together to make York a safer place for everyone."

Saturday's forum reminded some residents that it's time to reclaim The Wooded Valley, California Street and surrounding areas.

"The violence that we have is uncalled for," said Jackie Rawlinson, a California Street resident. "I'm worried because one of my kids or someone else's kid or anybody could die. I wish we all could come together as a community and take back our streets."

Maeola Robbins and two other York women helped organized a clean up in The Wooded Valley about two years ago when lots were overgrown and vacant houses were beacons for illicit behavior. The area has since undergone a face lift. Now, neighbors work to lift the cloud brought on by the fatal shooting.

"My heart breaks to see what has happened in our neighborhood," Robbins said. "My hope is for an end to the violence."

Stopping the violence means getting youth off the streets, forum organizers and participants said. The city has a curfew of -11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends for people age 16 and younger. But not everyone abides by that, a forum participate said.

"Late at night, I'm riding and there's kids out and I'm wondering, 'Where are their parents?'" a participant said.

Leaders plan to forge ahead with more meetings to mend communities, York Mayor Eddie Lee said.

"What we're trying to do is reason together and have a conversation about things we need to address," he said.

Saturday's event was sponsored in part by the city of York, the York school district, the western York County branch of the NAACP, the Citizens Awareness Group of western York County and the York Area Optimist Club.

For details on how you can help, call Steve Love at 684-7124.

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