The buzz of chainsaws, lawnmowers and string-trimmers echoed through the Glen Oaks West neighborhood Saturday morning as several dozen residents and volunteers from The Chapel, New Beginning Baptist Church and the BRAVE program cleared overgrowth from fence lines and empty lots to eliminate dark places that can harbor criminal behavior.
“We believe that if we are able to change the conditions and circumstances and the environment of families in the Glen Oaks community that it will directly correlate to our children excelling in school,” said the Rev. Donald R. Hunter Sr., pastor of the small, predominantly black, New Beginning Baptist Church. Hunter lives in Glen Oaks and helped organize the work with the neighborhood association.
The real goal of this and other similar events, Hunter said, is to change the spiritual condition of the neighborhood so the young people, “will not be committing crimes and instead they will love their neighbor as themselves.”
The Rev. Kevin McKee, senior pastor of The Chapel, a large, non denominational, predominantly white church near the LSU campus, has been cooperating with New Beginning and the Glen Oaks neighborhood for two years. The Chapel recently put new roofs on several homes and later this year will pay for the installation of about 100 streetlights to help reduce crime.
“I think it’s wonderful we can cooperate and do things like this in Jesus’ name,” McKee said as he took a break from chopping tall weeds in an overgrown vacant lot along Glen Oaks Drive.
“I hope the neighbors are blessed. When they know they are loved, I think, that goes a long way.”
Next door to that empty lot, Lucille Dupre was watching all the activity through her screen door. Along with McKee were several Chapel members operating weed-whackers, a lawn-mower and a riding mower.
“It’s wonderful,” Dupre said. “We have a lot of little kids in the neighborhood and now they can play there.”
Across the street, Tausha Battley and her son Chad Battley Jr., 8, were watching a crew of chainsaw wielding men cut down a thick grove of saplings that had grown up along her back fence, shadowing a right-of-way of McClelland Drive that is a ditch instead of an actual street. “Dead end” signs were vandalized with graffiti and the trash-littered spot.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Battley said as young men dragged limbs to the street. “It makes the community look better and I think it will stop crime in the area because that area is so cluttered.”
Gerald Gaines, with the mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, got a bottle of cleanser and scrubbed off the graffiti.
Around the corner, at Gerald Martin’s house, District Attorney Hillar Moore, police Sgt. Herbert “Tweety” Anny, head of the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination project, residents George Thompson, Louis Freeman and several other neighborhood men were trimming trees and bushes along a fence line that hindered a clear line of sight down the block.
Gerald Martin said he appreciates their work.
“Crime is committed in the dark, and that would be a good place for somebody to hide if they do commit a crime,” Martin said.
“We’re trying to make it look better,” Thompson said.
“We’re trying to beautify the neighborhood,” Freeman said.
Before the day’s activities got underway, Moore told the assembly there is a very small minority of young, black males who are committing the majority of the crime in the area.
“We’re looking at only 5 percent of the people who commit all the crime, and it is also 5 percent of the police officers who commit offenses against the community that we really need to fix,” Moore said. “Part of our message to the community is that we have not always treated you properly and we have to do some reconciliation with that. It’s a hard thing to overcome.”
Moore said their research has shown there are 600 kids who are 900 times more likely to kill or be killed, and they are the ones BRAVE is focusing on.
“Our problem is so small — it looks really big — but it is really so small,” Moore said. “Help is really what we want to do.”
“We’re trying to improve the relationship between the community and law enforcement,” said Anny as he carried an armload of limbs to the curb.
“Our hope and prayer is that eventually people will begin trusting law enforcement enough to tell us what’s going on before it escalates into a serious, violent crime.”