By Brittney Gathen, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Image a circle of unity linking police and the faith community and providing a force of protection for Frayser residents now too often burdened with the weight of crime concerns

Unity was the central theme Monday night (July 18) at Pursuit of God Church in Frayser during a meeting called by Memphis Police Department Colonel James Kirkwood, commander of the Old Allen Station precinct. The meeting was crafted to bring the community together to discuss crime and examine strategies to address it.

“We’ve started a movement where the pastors, politicians and police officers are working together to try to create a positive change in our community,” Apostle Ricky Floyd, pastor of Pursuit of God Church, said prior to the event. “They (officers) are releasing the statistics of what’s going on around our churches so not only do we know what to pray for when we see rises in crime, but we also know what kind of programs to develop.”

Kirkwood touted the power of a collective community effort.

“Violence is touching us whether we want it to touch us or not,” he said. “You can’t continue to hear about a lot of homicides and violence and it doesn’t affect you mentally. Our officers are being affected also, because they have deal with it on a daily basis. This meeting is about bringing us together.”

Audience members were divided into six wards (121-126) according to where they attended church in the community and with the idea of setting the table for those within each area getting to know each other better.

“You need to know who God put you with to labor with in the area he put you (in),” Kirkwood said. “If we’re going to win, you’ve got to know who’ll be backing you up.”

Kirkwood detailed crime statistics the Old Allen Station precinct collected near churches from January 1, 2015 through June 26, 2016.

Among the findings:

Total juvenile arrests: Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2015 – 773; Jan. 1, 2016-June 26, 2016 – 284.
Total residential burglaries: Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2015 – 1,478; Jan. 1, 2015-June 26, 2016 – 645.
Total domestic aggravated assaults: Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2015 – 222; Jan. 1, 2015-June 26 – 132.

Kirkwood suggested churches offer programs such as sports leagues, anger management classes, tutoring, job readiness programs and leadership training in a move to corral crime. He also spoke of the need for churches to form committees to address topics/issues such as economic empowerment, domestic violence and youth crime outreach.

Local law enforcement, he said, would play a key role in helping the faith community address violence. That includes Old Allen Station officers developing partnerships with churches and pastors, continuation of Blue Crush crime fighting initiatives, providing speakers to address crime concerns and crime prevention and a strong community presence at youth rallies, community festivals and other events.

“You have to do things that will bring the whole community out,” Kirkwood said. “You have to do something where you (churches) are on the forefront and you’re pulling people together. …The police department is going to help. We’re going to show up, not as enforcers, but as help. If we come together, ain’t no stopping us.”

The evening’s question-and-answer segment opened the door for input.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson said it would be appreciated if some non-profits that receive millions in grant money would try to allocate some money to churches. He also urged churches to hold politicians accountable and to “close the door” on those who only show up during election time.

Pastor DeAndre Brown of Lifeline to Success and Lifeline to a Dying World Ministries noted that churches have “captive audiences.”

“I believe as pastors it’s our duty to help develop relationships between parishioners and police officers. We can help break down this divide between the community and the police department,” said Brown, suggesting that officers visit churches to engage in open dialogues with community members. “We need to get started now bringing people into the churches so they understand that the police are our friends.”

Reginald Johnson, 57, was among the community members that weighed in. Citing previous negative experiences, Johnson said he feared police. Kirkwood told him that while there are bad officers, there are also good officers he can build relationships with.

“They’ve got some good ideas,” Johnson said after the meeting. “I just don’t trust the police because I was misused by the police. (But) as long as they’re doing something in the church, I think I’ll be a part of it, because I am a deacon of my church.”