US city calls for 10,000 men to combat violence

Philadelphia police and black community leaders called for 10,000 men to volunteer to patrol the streets of America's most dangerous big city in a bid to halt a surge in murders and violent crime.

US city calls for 10,000 men to combat violence
Philadelphia police and black community leaders called for 10,000 men to volunteer to patrol the streets of America's most dangerous big city in a bid to halt a surge in murders and violent crime.

In an initiative that organizers hope will be copied in other cities, the unarmed and non-uniformed volunteers would patrol selected areas in an attempt to deter drug dealing and other street crimes that have given Philadelphia the highest murder rate among the 10 largest U.S. cities.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, a key backer of the plan, said it will be officially launched on October 21 with the aim of putting the first patrols on the streets by early November. Volunteers will be asked to patrol for three hours a day for an initial period of 90 days.

"There will be no weapons and no arrests," Johnson told Reuters. "These are not vigilantes. They will be on the streets as peacekeepers."

The effort has similarities to the Guardian Angels group that starting patrolling New York City in 1979. Volunteers, who will be identified with armbands, from any ethnic group will be welcomed, but the force is expected to be largely black because that community accounts for 85 percent of murder victims, Johnson said.

Philadelphia has recorded 294 homicides so far this year, up from 270 for the same period of 2006. For last year as a whole, 406 people, mostly young black men, were killed on the streets of the city, the highest number for nine years.

The violence has continued to rise despite repeated calls by police, civic and community leaders for an end. Community leaders blame joblessness and the drug trade while gun-control advocates blame state lawmakers for failing to pass effective gun laws and for preventing cities such as Philadelphia from enacting their own measures to curb firearms ownership.

Johnson said the plan was initiated by Philadelphia-based record industry mogul Kenny Gamble and is also backed by a group of prisoners-for-life at nearby Graterford maximum-security prison. Those prisoners, though incarcerated, still have influence in the communities they came from and are urging young people there to avoid a life of crime.

"They are saying, 'You don't want to go in that direction. There's no glory in it'," Johnson said.

Dennis Muhammad, a security guard for Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan and a prominent supporter of the plan, said he hoped to attract some of the 80,000 Philadelphia men who attended the 1995 "Million Man March" led by Farrakhan.

"This is the first of its kind in the country," Muhammad said. "We believe that Philadelphia is at such a crisis level that the community is willing to participate in anything that would reduce the number of violent crimes in the city."

Reuters
Last Mod: 13 Eylül 2007, 16:30
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