Few acts could be more senseless than the shooting death of 1-year-old Keondra Hooks and the wounding of her 2-year-old sister, Leondra, both victims of random violence. The children, who were not the intended targets, were caught in the crossfire of a pointless dispute over gang turf.
Keshawn Jennings, 21, and Antwaine Jones, 19, members of the Manor Boyz, were found guilty of firing 16 shots into a Moody Manor apartment last Aug. 9, after they learned a member of a rival Crips gang was on their turf.
They shot up the wrong apartment, as the two young victims lay on the floor, asleep on a comforter. Last week, a Lucas County jury of seven women and five men convicted the men of aggravated murder.
They now face life in prison, without parole. Yet despite a statement from a police detective about sending a message, lengthy prison sentences won’t stop other young men from committing acts that are just as senseless and tragic.
Crimes like this one sparked Toledo two years ago to start the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence. It will take a coordinated, sustained effort by everyone — law enforcement, social service agencies, churches, community groups, educators, employers, parents, public health agencies, young people, and ex-offenders — to help solve the problem.
Acts of crime and violence have gone down this year, and it’s fair to say Toledo’s community initiative has helped. But much more needs to be done. Toledo still lacks the full-scale community partnerships that have defined the anti-violence efforts of the most successful cities.
In Toledo, as in most other cities, a small number of people cause most of the problems. The coalition that is working to reduce violence — and that should include all of us — needs to work with these young men more directly and to enlist some of their peers, including ex-offenders, to reach them.
For some kids, the streets have become parents. With so many men removed from the community by incarceration, positive adult male role models are needed more than ever.
Some cities have had success with conflict resolution classes, which all schools should probably require. Toledo churches — still community anchors — also need to take a lead role. In Boston during the 1990s, groups of ministers started walking through some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods, talking with drug dealers and other young people.
Toledo police understand that troubled young men, including gang members, are far more likely to listen to their peers than to cops or prosecutors. After court call-ins, law enforcement officers rely on parolees to give their peers the message that continued violence will bring a lot of heat.
That’s good, but ex-offenders need to be used in more formal and organized ways for street outreach and mentoring. They — and young people in general, who are disproportionately affected by violence — should also help develop and run anti-violence programs in Toledo.
Toledo’s anti-violence coalition also understands that prevention is as important as enforcement. Its social service team provides counseling and referrals to employment, education, and other services. But here too, the community can do a lot more to ensure that gang members and other young people have real options other than the street.
A nationally recognized program in Detroit, called “Flip the Script,” provides a useful model. It’s a 16-week boot camp for life that targets young minority males, some of them ex-prisoners. Run by Keith Bennett of Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit, the program employs ex-offenders and works on changing attitudes, teaching math and money management, and developing skills such as punctuality and attendance.
Young men get hands-on training in skilled trades, and work at transitional jobs. For some, dealing drugs has been their only work experience.
Toledo police continue to remove dangerous people from the community, using new data-driven policing methods, including surveillance cameras and software that identifies crime hot spots.
Moreover, Toledo has the pieces in place for an effective anti-violence program that includes prevention and intervention. But as the violence gets more senseless and indiscriminate, the coalition that is trying to fight it will have to start working closer to the source.