An Editorial by Robert Kenneth Wright
It’s going to take more than locking people up and fighting crime to change the climate of violence in our city. Meetings are being held, people are marching, people are posting concerns on social media and a lot of other activities are taking place in an effort to come up with solutions to the issues in Monroe. I was recently asked “Robert what is your solution?” I talk a lot about the problems and write a lot of stories in the newspaper but my suggestions have seldom had any bite to them. So to fully answer the question posed towards me, I offer these suggestions for change in Monroe:
1. Use OCC and RCC inmates to rehabilitate homes in the neighborhoods of residence. Pull them off of highway cleanup detail and put them in the communities cleaning out ditches, picking up trash and beautifying the neighborhoods. Maybe if they sweat it out in making their community look good, they’ll take pride in it and wouldn’t want to destroy it once released.
2. Citizens Reward Card. Issue each registered voter a Citizens Reward Card. Each citizen earns points which can be used for discounts or freebies at government sponsored events. Points could be earned by voting, purchasing items in stores paying sales tax, and for not being cited by the police for any tickets, misdemeanor or felony offenses. School aged students would get a card too. They can earn points by making good grades and not having any behavioral infractions at school. The card basically is a Good Conduct, Good Citizen Awards program. Maybe a citizen can get in a concert for free at the Civic Center or a kid can get free admission to the Ark-La-Miss fair….all for not getting in trouble at school, or the adult not getting a DUI.
3. Police Relocation. Provide free housing for police in the neighborhood they are assigned to work. They patrol the streets, they know the people, the people know them. As a neighbor, its difficult to shoot or beat the guy who has to help you lift something out of your car or invites you over for a barbeque.
4. More civilian volunteers on the police force. Offer more perks and rewards for citizens commissioned as volunteer officers. Have them to assist with neighborhood watch and community policing.
5. When 911 is called about domestic disputes, maybe those involved don’t need to be jailed. Transfer the call to a commissioned social welfare officer who is dispatched not to make an arrest, but to analyze the situation and try to solve the problem without locking up a man because tensions heated in a family argument and they started fighting. It’s a family issue that needs to be handled within the family.
6. Youth needs jobs. We can all pitch in to find something for youth to do in our businesses whether its full-time or part-time. They can’t all work at the mall. A youth at work is not one roaming the streets getting into trouble. A youth that wants to keep his job won’t get in trouble.
7. Annual Community Service Project Contest. This can be participated by individuals or groups. The city would host an annual contest to see who could implement the best community service project. A panel would decide which project was the most novel and had the greatest impact.
8. Boxing for Youth. Since a lot of youth have built up frustration and want to fight in the streets, channel some of that energy as Coach James Hughey would have at Powell Recreation Center. Create a youth boxing league and train them to properly participate in a sport rather than something that would result in incarceration or death of another. Participants would battle it out in semi-final bouts leading up to the much anticipated annual bout of the city’s best boxers. League participants who fight outside of the ring are eliminated from competitions.
9. Pageant program for the girls. The Miss Monroe and Little Miss Monroe Pageants were created in 2008 and were designed to create another avenue for Monroe girls to compete and prepare for their chance on the Miss Louisiana and Miss America stage. It is still in operation and gets funding from the city and private donors. It should be closed to only Monroe girls and young ladies and more funds should be applied to it to not only operate the one day pageant, but a year-round program that focuses on the arts of finer womanhood, dance and musical training.
10. More funds for the O.K. Program. The city’s annual $2,000 donation just won’t cut it. If the girl’s pageant can get $10,000 a year, the boys can get the same for their annual program.
11. Host an annual video game contest for the city’s best video game players.
12. Curfew. In the 1990s, Monroe City Councilman Charles Johnson spearheaded a curfew for youth which was implemented and many parents were jailed or fined because their kids were out roaming the streets at night without adult supervision. The idea still has merit, however some tweaking needs to be done to incorporate fairness.
13. More technology in recreation centers. I remember many days at the Tri-District Boys & Girls Club as a youth, operated by Ervin Peter Turner. There were video games, billiards, ping-pong, basketball and softball. We waited in line to play our favorite game. Today, lots of youth don’t play conventional games but they do play video games and enjoy surfing the net. Create some plush rooms in the recreation centers with the latest video games, 70-80 inch screens, internet rooms, and let the youth manage the flow and operation.
14. Create a youth police squad. Each public high school should have an assigned commissioned police officer (at no expense to the school) during normal school hours. Deputize your toughest guys or girls on campus to help with security, clearing the halls and managing crowds of kids at basketball and football games. Each of these groups work along with the police resource officer, all of which fall under the direction of the school’s Dean of Students.
15. Put the kids on a bus and take them somewhere. Many youth have never left the city. You’d be amazed to see the look on their faces when they actually see the size of the Mississippi River. Many have never seen that much water before. Take them to Little Rock to the Clinton Library, to the science museum in Shreveport, to the state capitol down in Baton Rouge or the Aquarium or WWII Museum down in New Orleans. Let them see that they are not trapped in a prison and may be their aspirations will grow outside of their neighborhood.
One of the most important lessons I learned as a classroom teacher is that if a lesson is planned, its relevant, captures the attention of your students and provides an activity of which they can be actively engaged, they will participate and the teacher won’t have to worry about behavioral problems. Give the youth something to do and occupy their time. Give the adults something to do as well. As the old saying goes, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”
These are just a few suggestions for service, activism, and volunteerism in Monroe. Some will cost money. Many will just require people to volunteer their time and commitment to help solve the problems. Outside help is fine, but we can do this ourselves with people already here. Service to the community is something I’ve been doing since I was a youth. I believe a change of heart by many, a few more novel approaches, a little more money directed to youth, and a little volunteer spirit will be the way to change our community….for decreasing the violence can’t be done by just locking people up.