Casey Hawkins attended a community forum about crime Thursday at Beacon Light Baptist Church on Prescott Road because she said she is worried about the safety of her sons.
Hawkins, 32, has two sons, ages 7 and 12, in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
“I just look at them in the school system and worry about kids bringing guns to school,” Hawkins said before the forum began.
Hawkins was one of more than 50 residents who attended the forum in the church’s sanctuary that was hosted by local radio station WEMX-FM 94.1.
A panel of local leaders spoke about the issues, including Cleo Fields, City Constable Reginald Brown and Edward “Ted” James, a Democrat who is running for the District 101 seat in the state House of Representatives.
J. Tweezy, WEMX program director, served as the moderator for the forum, asking the panel several questions before turning the microphone over to the audience.
“We want you to get involved, and we want you to ask the questions,” he told the crowd.
Topics included drug education programs, how to reduce school dropout rates and how to monitor children more closely after school.
One issue that came up over and over again, though, was the relationship between the Baton Rouge Police Department and the city’s black residents.
Police Chief Dewayne White said on radio station WJBO-AM on Oct. 5 that the city’s black population doesn’t trust the police.
Fields said one of the main reasons he attended the forum was to discuss the relationship residents have with police.
“It has to be a two-way street,” Fields said. “Police officers can’t be overzealous, and people in the community need to respect law enforcement.”
Sid Newman, executive director of Crime Stoppers and a former Baton Rouge police officer, said relations can improve in the community.
“I really don’t know what the relations are in the community today with law enforcement. I will say that we can do a lot better than what were doing,” Newman said. “Ten years ago, we could have been doing a lot better than what we were doing then.”
Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed, a former Baton Rouge gang leader who now works as a community activist, took that idea a step further, saying the city police force has “some bad apples in it” who need to be addressed.
“If you have a division that is going in and antagonizing people in the community, you cannot expect that community to give the police force help,” Reed said.
Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle was not a member of the panel but made an appearance at the gathering.
Marcelle said there is a real disconnect between law enforcement and citizens, which comes from problems on both sides.
“I watch the police as they come into my community. And yes, I don’t want people committing crimes on my street. And yes, the police have to be there. But they have to follow the rules,” Marcelle said.
Marcelle also said the community needs to take teenagers who are having kids and re-train them on how to be parents.
“We have children who are raising children,” Marcelle said. “Just because you have a child, doesn’t make you a parent.”
Levannah Jackson, 66, said before the meeting that she came to the forum because she has daughters who lived near the Beacon Light area and has granddaughters who still live there.
She said during the forum that she is concerned about bringing self-esteem back into the city’s educational system.
“Somewhere, we need to bridge the gap between how do we make the neighborhood more responsible, how do we make the parents more responsible, and how do we play that fact with those of you who say, ‘You ought to be responsible,’ ” Jackson said.
Brown responded by saying the city needs to refocus on training its youth for the real world after school.
“We need to be able to train them before they get to the institution, so that they won’t go to the institution,” Brown said, referring to prisons.
A number of panel members also expressed their desire to see a stronger emphasis on religion in schools.
“We have gotten away from our beliefs in God,” said Eric A. Williams, pastor of Beacon Light Baptist Church.