Forum seeks answers for York City violence

Sean Philip Cotter

About 40 people gathered Tuesday night in the basement of the Crispus Attucks Community Center, where the local NAACP chapter hosted a forum on violence in York City.

From left to right, Charles Bennett, Tino Conquest and Edgar DeJesus speak during an NAACP-hosted panel discussion about violence in York City.

Sandra Thompson, the head of the local branch, brought in several panel members to speak at length, and many in attendance also talked about the "root causes" of violence in the city and what can be done about it.

A few basic ideas found general consensus among the panelists. They touched on topics they said the community needs to improve on and others that the government and schools — "the system" — needs to do better.

Charles Bennett, a former convict who now works with offenders, first turned his thoughts to the community.

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"There's a police presence, there's gun presence — where's our presence?" he said. "Where's the community at?"

He and fellow panelists Tino Conquest, Jerald Proctor and Edward DeJesus said parents, churches, extended family and more community members need to be more involved.

"There's no way your kids should be able to have four, five guns in the house and you not know about it," said Bennett, whose son was one of seven people hit by gunfire during a spate of shootings on June 9.

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But speakers made it  clear that it's not all on the parents, either. After all, for many poorer families, parents might have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet, leaving the kids often, home alone, Conquest said.

"We have to provide an alternative" for both the parents and the kids, he said. "We have kids raising themselves."

Proctor, a hall monitor at York City schools, said that sets up kids in bad situations.

"The love they're looking for that they can't find at home they find in the streets," he said.

DeJesus, another panelist, said there needed to be more involved and active groups of people from the community working with kids in the city, and they need to connect with the kids better.

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"Train culturally competent workers," said DeJesus.

He said it's important that organizations get young people from the community and that the organizations use youth pop culture and other ways of making personal connections to the kids they're trying to help.

And whatever programs exist have to logistically service the community they're trying to reach, he said. That means, for example, if you're trying to help keep young people out of trouble after school gets out at 3:45 p.m., all the programs can't end at 5 p.m.

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Carla Christopher, who's taught in York City schools and been involved with a variety of community organizations over the years, spoke from the audience toward the end of the meeting, saying young people of color don't have enough role models in positions of power around York City — and the city and local organizations need to work to change that, she said.

She said the development around the city's core has been great, but she's seen more and more black-owned businesses priced out, and more often the proprietors and patrons alike have gotten whiter.

"There's fewer and fewer black faces downtown," she said.

Christopher and the panelists said investment in the facilities kids in the city work with — schools, parks, general infrastructure — will make people feel more supported, as if "the system" is on their side more.

"If these kids don't feel love, don't see love, they'll never learn to love themselves," she said.

— Reach Sean Cotter atscotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.