While speakers at annual Dr. King Holiday gatherings across the D.C. metropolitan area often issue a call for nonviolence, a group that includes government officials, clergymen, and local artists want to ensure that tangible action takes place to make that goal a reality.
Earlier this week, Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene W. Grant (D), along with local organizers in the political, legal, and social sectors, kicked off what has been touted as the “Stop the Violence in Prince George’s County” movement. Long after the end of an MLK Day march and panel discussion, 150 partner churches will host year-round classes on conflict resolution and residents will receive information about mental health services.
“We want to make certain that people understand that this is not a one-day event. People usually come together for one day and it fizzes out,” said Grant, who has served as mayor of Seat Pleasant since 2004.
Plans for this campaign have been in the works since Grant and other P.G. County officials attended a meeting about gun violence organized by U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) last October. The growing list of grassroots supporters has since grown to include Shorty Corleone of Rare Essence and D.C. hip-hop artist Fat Trel. Sandman and Ericy B also released a song entitled “Stop the Violence.”
We have a plan that [will take place] long after the march, speeches, and panel discussions are over. There has been a tremendous outpouring of support throughout our community. Residents are coming together to stop the violence in solidarity and it’s going to be historic,” Grant added.
Despite a drop in criminal activity, more than 130 homicides, many of which have been linked to family and domestic disputes, have taken place in P.G. County in the last two years. This trend continued days into the New Year when law enforcement officials answering a call found a Hyattsville, Maryland woman with gunshot wounds to her upper torso. She later succumbed to her injuries.
Mayor Grant’s current project follows in the footsteps of the Transforming Neighborhood Initiative which focused on six enclaves in P.G. County with significant public health, economic, educational and safety challenges. P.G. County resident Mettie Sherman praised Grants’ efforts, recounting challenges that she faced as an adolescent navigating an environment where young people gained respect for gang and crew affiliations.
Sherman noted that the help of the churches in the “Stop the Violence in P.G. County” mirrors the support her parents and other family members gave her in her younger days. Such protection, she contends, compelled her to think twice before committing illegal acts. “It’s very effective to target the youth while they’re young. It would make a good impact on the entire community,” Sherman, a student at Morgan State University in Baltimore, said.
“The whole situation of violence often happens because of ignorance and an unawareness of a situation. Kids are just trying to be cool and follow other people. From there, it’s a domino effect. These days, schools aren’t able to cater to certain groups of students. If they don’t meet certain qualifications they can’t take part in extracurricular activities. That means they’ll probably join a gang,” said Sherman, who lives in Laurel, Maryland.
The Rev. Tony Lee shared Sherman’s sentiments, commending the P.G. County Police Department for what he described as its work in building relationships with residents and proactively preventing crime. Lee, pastor of Community of Hope AME Church in Temple Hills, Maryland, said organizing like what Mayor Grant has proposed instills confidence in residents to tackle broader issues tied to violent crime.
“We’re walking in the legacy of Dr. King anytime you have communities coming together to figure out how we can make sure folks are living a better life,” Lee said. “This initiative seizes on the momentum around the holiday and takes the next logical step. We have a responsibility to not just talk about our neighborhoods but deal with our institutions, including a subpar education system that creates these conditions. I’m encouraged by Mayor Grant’s work because he has always done this type of thing.”
Grant said that stopping violence in its entirety counts as his ultimate goal in spearheading the “Stop the Violence in Prince George’s County” campaign. While it might not be possible, he argues that the community work will empower residents to take neighborhood affairs into their own hands and hold each other accountable for their actions.
“There has been a retreat from teaching values,” Grant said. “No other people on this planet have endured suffering like black people. A long time ago, we didn’t commit violence. Poverty becomes a convenient excuse. We can overcome this violence when we come into knowledge of self.”