Community members, officials brainstorm for ideas to combat recent surge in city
By Anna-Marie Menhenott
FORT PIERCE -- An estimated 800 concerned members of the community packed into the auditorium at Lincoln Park Academy on July 31 to voice their opinions on how to help eradicate city-wide violence.
The panel of more than 20 city leaders, including Sheriff Ken Mascara, Fort Pierce Police Chief Sean Baldwin and forum organizer State Rep. Larry Lee Jr., listened to residents' ideas of what can be done to make the community a safer place to live. They also offered their opinions on what the residents can do to help law enforcement lower crime rates.
So far in 2013, there have been an estimated 35 shootings in the city, resulting in five deaths. Chief Baldwin stated that although this is a 70 percent drop in the crime rate since 1997, it's hard to celebrate.
Sheriff Mascara echoed Chief Baldwin's concerns. The sheriff also indicated that there are not enough activities for young men to get involved in, a concern for area residents as well.
"My son doesn't have anything to do all summer," said Jesse Williams. "There's no jobs and there's nowhere for them to go. As a parent, you can try your hardest to keep them involved in something, but it's hard to keep them off the street when that's where their friends are."
Many residents are not aware of the programs that are available for young people in the area.
"If we don't know what's out there, how are we supposed to get our kids involved?" Ms. Williams said. "People don't want to get involved with kids in this part of town. They want to focus on kids in other neighborhoods, not this one."
One of the concerns brought up by Chief Baldwin was the fear residents have when asked to stand up against alleged gang members. The mentality that snitching is worse than the crime being reported is one of the reasons criminals continue to wreak havoc on the community.
"We're scared to say anything most of the time," said Ms. Williams. "These gangbangers will shut you up if they don't want you talking or if they found out you said something. The police aren't always here. What happens when they retaliate? We're scared to lose our life."
State Rep. Lee encouraged those attending the forum to come together and stand up against crime.
Suggestions from the audience included neighborhood watch groups, more activities for children and an increase in police presence.
"Nobody wants to lose their child to violence," Ms. Williams said. "I've lost a family member and I don't want to lose any more. We've got to find a solution to this. It just doesn't make any sense that all these children are dying."