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Community involvement needed to reduce violence in Ensley, activists say

At podium: Minister Tremon Muhammad next to Councilmember Lashunda Scales (left) and Walter Umraani (right). (FILE)
By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times

At podium: Minister Tremon Muhammad next to Councilmember Lashunda Scales (left) and Walter Umraani (right). (Ariel Worthy/The Birmingham Times)

One week after Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin held a press conference in Ensley about violent crime in the city a group of community leaders were at the same location to talk about their steps to reduce violence.

Local leaders were at McAlpine Park Community Center in Ensley on Tuesday – where Woodfin stood last week — to announce the Peacemakers of Birmingham initiative which will offer conflict resolution sessions and training, weekly community engagements, and eventually job resources. Woodfin, along with Councilmembers Lashunda Scales and John Hilliard were in attendance.

Organizers hope to resolve conflict by bringing together people or groups who have issues that could turn violent and offered a hotline to call. The phone number will allow people to call for a sit-down conflict resolution.

“Because we know they won’t call, but they have wives, girlfriends who would call because they have children, they have people who know if this thing escalates, they might shoot one of their children by mistake,” said Tremon Muhammad, creator and founder of the Black Star Academy. “Those are the people who will call our hotline.”

Once the call is made, the members of the conflict resolution team will be dispatched and eventually each neighborhood will have its own team.

Many people think the initiative won’t work because parties won’t be willing to sit down with each other, but Muhammad says that’s not true.

“Once you get our young men away from the crowd, we melt like butter,” he said. “I have seen young men embroiled in beef and their whole group is embroiled in beef, shooting at each other go behind closed doors and say … ‘I’m tired of this. I don’t want to be shooting at them, but I don’t want them shooting at me.’”

The goal is to intervene before someone is killed, Muhammad said.

Eventually the group hopes to get enough vehicles to patrol the streets.

“Instead of ‘protect and serve’ you’ll see ‘love and unity,’” he said. “You’ll see community patrol. It’s authority, but it’s not the police. Usually by the time the police are called it’s already too late. So there have to be people to trust from the community.”

Walter Umraani, field director of the Peacemakers, said they also have a list of job opportunities available for youths and target neighborhoods that need it the most.

“You pick the neighborhoods that have had the most violence and go through that one,” he said. “You have a measurement of success then.”

Birmingham City Councilman John Hilliard said he thinks this initiative is important because of the community policing aspect. “We have to be on the outlook to help curb the crime in our areas,” he said.

Hilliard said he sees the initiative not only as a way to curb crime, but also to help with economic development and job creation.

“This will allow us to engage people one-on-one, we have to connect them with the resources available in the city of Birmingham that they may not know about,” Hilliard said. “Those resources are out there. So, we want to enlighten and engage them.”

Woodfin, in Ensley last week, said he was “hurting” and “frustrated” by the murders.

“Although we’ve been in the office for eight weeks, it’s important that in the coming days we will lay out a blueprint to tackle these issues and the rationale for our design,” he said. “Like you, I’m tired. I’m grieving and I’m hurting and I’m frustrated.”

To contact the Peacemakers, call 504-723-3976 or 205-356-6417