Aug. 20, 2005 – "Yes, we are a divided community." Those were the words of Gary Moore, pastor of St. Croix Christian Church, in response to the first part of a question from Delegate Donna M. Christensen regarding divisions in the community.
During a town meeting Saturday on crime prevention, Moore cited conversations where people appeared to judge others on the color of skin, their island of origin or the language they spoke. He said that he has been called a "black, white man" because he pastors at a church that is mostly attended by whites.
The second part of Christensen's question — whether St. Croix can overcome those divisions to solve the crime problem in its community — remains to be seen.
However, the dozen or so people who took the microphone, and the 65 in attendance, appeared ready to make the effort.
Moore said, "I am ready to meet next week. Let's get this thing done." He said his congregation was willing to pay for meeting rooms, supplies, food and speakers.
Those speaking during Saturday's event at St. Croix Educational Complex — anchored by remarks by Al Lenhardt, National Crime Prevention Council president — painted a picture of a community under attack.
Joyce Brown, program coordinator for St. Croix Unity Coalition, talked about a song aired on popular radio stations that gave explicit details about oral sex and another that promoted promiscuity for an 11-year-old. Brown said, "What is a teenager to think."
The sighs from the audience indicated they did not know that it had gotten that bad. She urged residents to come out of their "comfort zone and give back to the community."
Many of the speakers emphasized the thought that it would take a collaborative effort to get the job done.
Mary Moorhead, a retired educator of 30 years and a community activist, said, "It can only be done if all the organizations come together under one umbrella."
Another theme running through the meeting was that crime stems from a breakdown in family values. Eddie Williams, president of the St. Croix Ministerial Association, said, "First we must start with the family morals and values."
The individual approach was articulated by Ferryneisa Benjamin, assistant commissioner of Human Services, who said, "We have children raising children." She said work did not have to be done through the government or social organizations, adding that just reaching out to a neighbor or a child who appeared to be having problems could make a difference.
Lenhardt derives much of his crime-prevention philosophy from the "broken window theory" articulated by George Kelling and James Q. Wilson in an article in The Atlantic published in the early '80s. One of the theory's main assertions is that little crimes that go unnoticed lead to bigger crimes.
Lenhardt said, "Once you let an infraction go by, you lower the standard." However, he did not place all the responsibility for enforcing the laws on the police department. He said it was the community's responsibility to see laws enforced, adding, "Everyone needs to get involved."
However, Lenhardt could not give an answer to a resident whose house had been burglarized, and, despite several visits to the police department, was unable to get an officer to come to her home to investigate the incident.
Moore said he had experience in Chicago with a church that led a successful effort to clean up a crime-infested area in that city. Moore then encouraged Christensen, who sponsored this meeting, to take the lead in getting a group together to focus on the problem.
Sens. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, and Juan Figueroa-Serville attended the meeting.
Brown announced that the St. Croix Drug Demand Reduction Unity Coalition will have a meeting on Sept. 13 at 10 a.m. at 1102 Estate Richmond. Call 719-9900 for more information.
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