Underneath a tableau depicting Mary at the foot of the cross bearing her dying son Jesus, Jackie Latson tearfully urged about 110 men gathered at St. Paul’s Church in Wilmington, Delaware last Saturday to take back the streets and stop the violence that left her son dead.
"My son was killed five years ago," she said through her tears. "Why is it that about 50 people have been killed [in Wilmington] since? It’s not getting better; it’s getting worse. I’m begging you to stand up."
Her plea came at the start of a rally called the "1,000 Man Call to Consciousness and Action Program." Organizers said they hope to transform dangerous city streets by approaching, with a smile and a handshake.
"We hope to befriend the people on the corners, and we want to recruit them to be peacekeepers themselves," said Father Mike Tyson, associate pastor at St. Paul’s and an organizer of the rally.
He would like to see Catholics more involved in such activities, citing the two great commandments to love God and to love neighbor. "If we just do the work in the temple (honoring God) and not in the street, then we’re only doing half the commandment."
The area around St. Paul’s has had its share of violence. Two people were shot several blocks from the church at Fourth and Jackson streets, the day before the rally. Both were hospitalized. And two men shot to death at a Newport storage unit June 9 were from St. Paul’s, Father Tyson noted.
While the meeting was held at St. Paul’s, the group supersedes racial and religious lines; whites, blacks and Hispanics of different faiths participated, including 15 to 20 from St. Paul’s.
Some of the organizers have experienced the violence firsthand. A brother of Norman Mercado, 59, a St. Paul’s parishioner, was killed about 25 years ago, he said. About a year afterward, Mercado said he and six others were shot after an altercation with a motorcycle gang, but all survived.
"I’ve seen so many young guys getting shot, getting killed," said Mercado. "It’s time to do something."
Dennis Muhammad of Houston, who has helped to organize groups whose members call themselves "peacekeepers" in five other cities, explained that the key is to share "a small word called love," he said. "We will not stop until we can guarantee the safety of our ladies, our children and our elderly."
Members began their push this week in four sections of the city. Each week they plan to return to the same areas to greet the young people they find. "These young men need some guidance and direction," said Deacon Donald Benn, 48, of New Calvary Baptist Church, another organizer and father of three. "I feel a need to do something."
The group’s action comes too late to help Latson’s son, Hakim Crawford, who was shot to death at Seventh and Jackson streets on April 16, 2004. While weary of seeing so
many others injured or slain in street violence, she continues to press a message of nonviolence. She even forgave Dwaynne Staats, the man who killed her son, "because that’s what God called me to do. I don’t believe in violence. I don’t believe in the death penalty."
Staats is serving a life sentence.
Latson’s talk came the day before Hakim would have turned 37.
"I want to hold him again but I can’t," said Latson, who was pregnant with Hakim when she moved to Wilmington from North Carolina. "This is a pain that cannot be healed."
Printed with permission from The Dialog, newspaper for the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware.