Commish: I need 10,000 black men
Volunteers will patrol high-crime areas
Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson is joining with civic leaders in an effort to recruit 10,000 black men to fight crime in Philadelphia's toughest neighborhoods.
Dubbed "A Call to Action: 10,000 men - It's a New Day," the effort will begin Oct. 21 with a rally and recruitment drive at the Liacouras Center, followed days afterward by the training of the volunteers to act as community "peacekeepers."
"It's time for African-American men to stand up," Johnson said in an interview. "We have an obligation to protect our women, our children and our elderly. We're going to put men on the street. We're going to train them in conflict resolution."
Johnson said volunteers will be asked to patrol in high-crime areas for two to three hours a day for "a minimum of 90 days."
He said that the effort wasn't a city program, though many police commanders will be involved in training volunteers and supporting the patrolling peacekeepers, and training will take place at city recreation centers.
Community and religious leaders will be closely involved, Johnson said.
A key architect of the strategy is Dennis Muhammad, chief of security for Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan. Muhammad has a Detroit-based consulting business that works with police departments on community policing and sensitivity training.
Muhammad met in City Hall last summer with Johnson, Mayor Street and some business leaders, and Johnson was enthusiastic about the notion of rallying African-American men to stem the growing tide of violence.
In an interview yesterday, Muhammad said he envisions a dramatic presence in Philadelphia's most troubled neighborhoods that could inspire a national movement.
"We plan to deploy these men and distinguish them with a colored shirt or something, and our very physical presence will become a deterrent," Muhammad said. "It would be hard to commit a crime on a corner with 200 men.
"When this is successful, we hope to bottle this and take it to every major city in the country," he said.
Johnson said he's met regularly with record-industry mogul Kenny Gamble and radio host and executive E. Stephen Collins to plan the undertaking.
Collins sees the effort as more than a Town Watch-style crime deterrent.
"The reality is that these guys on the street who seem so tough are somebody's son," Collins said in an interview. "We hope to train people how to talk to young men about their attitudes, about how they talk to young ladies.
"What we hope for is a sustained process to try and eradicate the mind-set among young people that they can go on killing each other, shooting each other at a whim," Collins said.
Volunteers will be prohibited from bringing weapons or engaging in confrontations. They will be asked to sign agreements making it clear they aren't agents of the city and aren't covered by city insurance.
Johnson said the training and patrols will be offered citywide and open to anyone, but he believes there's a special need for African-American men in Philadelphia to get involved.
Muhammad said Street seemed less engaged with the initiative than Johnson when the idea was presented last year.
Street spokesman Joe Grace said yesterday "the city is supportive" of the effort, but it's not clear whether the mayor will attend the Oct. 21 kick-off.
Democratic mayoral candidate Michael Nutter, who is the favorite to win the November election to succeed Street, said he supported any effort to reduce crime.
"I think any effort to organize and rally the community to fight crime, especially black men, is important and should be actively supported," Nutter said. "We need black men in the community to not only stand up and take action in the neighborhoods, but also to reach out to many of the young black men who are involved in violence and help them turn their lives around." *