October 22, 2007 in Nation/World

7,000 volunteer to fight Philadelphia violence

Erika Hayasaki Los Angeles Times
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Johnson
(Full-size photo)

PHILADELPHIA – A month after civic leaders and the police chief in this crime-plagued city called on 10,000 black men to patrol the streets, thousands arrived Sunday by foot, car, motorcycle, bus, in wheelchairs, with sons and nephews in tow.

“Sign up here!” a volunteer shouted to the long line of men. “Be a part of history!”

With 6,000 already registered online, more than 7,000 men showed up Sunday wearing suits, fraternity letters, job uniforms, and T-shirts emblazoned with the faces of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcom X and the words: “Stop the Violence.”

Many waited more than an hour to register, although they did not know much about how they would be trained or deployed to curb violence. But all agreed they wanted to end to the killings and drug wars that have seized their neighborhoods.

More than 300 people have been killed here this year. Last year, there were 406 homicides, and most involved black males.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson has faced criticism in recent weeks for backing the plan to put unarmed men on the streets as “peacekeepers” who don’t have the power to arrest. Some have questioned what kind of training volunteers will receive.

Sunday, Johnson, who will retire Jan. 7, reaffirmed his support for the program, telling the men who crowded into the auditorium: “Traditional policing is not working.”

The call to participate was directed at black men, but organizers said all were welcome. The majority of those who attended Sunday were black.

Tank Stewart, 59, a nurse, said he signed up because he was tired of seeing victims with gunshot wounds come into the hospital where he works. He said he was ready to protect his neighborhood despite the danger.


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