Residents of Ward 2 came out to Family Church at 2309 S. Poplar St. on a stormy evening last week to take part in the United Citizens of Pine Bluff Town Hall meeting to address crime in the city.
In their final meeting with the public, UCPB leaders Kymara Seals and Michael McCray listened to the concerns that would be compiled and taken back to public safety and city council officials.
Homicides were a topic as State Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, presented statistics from 2010-2020.
Those stats include: 183 homicides; 24,142 violent crimes ; 35,308 property crimes; 604 rape/sexual assaults ; and 2,632 drug sales/possession .
Homicides more than doubled from 2010 to 2020 while all other crimes decreased in the 10-year span.
"When you look at this you have to say these homicides don't include attempted homicides, it doesn't include the gunshots that rang out on New Year's Eve and in other neighborhoods," said Flowers who added that citizens were paralyzed by fear.
"Even though I'm an elected official on the state level, I'm still a citizen here," Flowers said to the small crowd. "Even as an elected official it's paralyzing to consistently watch these things happen and you just don't know why it's happening at that moment and you don't know what to do. It's overwhelming."
Flowers said there were several layers of issues that needed to be dealt with including unemployment, community development, entrepreneurship, education, poverty, housing and prevention.
"These issues have spanned across time for decades," said Flowers, who said it was going to take the community to help along with law enforcement.
Albert King Junior, a 28-year resident, said the Black community just didn't trust the police. He said it was going to take the efforts of community men stepping up and taking back their neighborhoods.
"We had some people come here from Boston and Indiana to come up with a solution that would help crime," said King. "What he told us was that you men are going to have to hit the streets between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. because law enforcement can't do it. They don't trust them."
Instead of the community patrol plan being initiated as discussed by the group, King said a group of pastors dressed in suits marched around downtown during the noon hour.
"That's not going to get it," said King.
Seals said a lot of men aren't going to go out into the streets after dark because they are scared but agreed that marching did not help subdue the crime.
"It's going to take a group of men to go out and talk to them," said King. "Every time we talk about anything in Pine Bluff, men don't show up."
Looking around the room, King commended all the women who showed up, which outnumbered the handful of men who were there.
King even expressed disappointment in the survey where 68% of the participants were women.
"Really," said King as he shook his head, "men talk to your buddies, talk to your friends. We have to hit these streets late at night-- not at 12 o'clock in the daytime with your suit on. Nobody wants to see you."
Trammell Howell, PTO president at Pine Bluff High School, said mindsets have to be changed even if that means letting someone else step up.
"If what you're thinking or doing is not working, get out the way," she said. "Let's try something new that's going to help our community and help our kids to build our community. We got to think differently and move in a different way."
Howell said a fight that happened at the high school recently put a dark spot on the school and the addition of a police lookout in front of the school didn't make matters any better.
"That's not how we want to promote our school," she said.
Howell said Pine Bluff wasn't the only community experiencing these problems as Monticello, Benton and Conway each had incidents that led to police involvement and arrests including finding a weapon on campus.
Joyce Brown has been the president of the Central District Neighborhood Watch for over 15 years.
She said she has witnessed areas in the community that were once bad change over time with home training.
"Parents need to teach their children respect. We need to start at home and start working with our children training them to respect, not just themselves but their home, community and elders," said Brown. "If you don't have respect at home, then you're not going out and respecting anything."
Seals agreed while referencing a conference call she had with Pine Bluff Superintendent Barbara Warren, who said students were not getting what they needed at home.
"All parents are not parenting. That is one of the biggest problems we're facing," said Seals. "I know times have changed. A lot of these children don't have the parenting, the supervision, they're not being taught respect and anything goes and you wonder how on earth does a 14-year-old boy end up with weapons."
King said nowadays the father figure is absent in the home and the kids are having kids.
"They're not getting it at home and guess what," said King as he looked around the room. "It's not going to starts at home when the mama is 15 and the grandma is 32."
Brown mentioned volunteerism playing a vital role in the lives of children who lacked parental supervision. Brown said she is a 16-year CASA volunteer with the juvenile court system and an advocate for children.
"Pine Bluff needs to help Pine Bluff," she said. "Pine Bluff has to step up. If you see neglect in the home, step up."
Sheron McKenzie, who lives off of Mulberry Street, said there have been shootings near her neighborhood that runs her son into the house ducking and scared.
She pointed out that the 22nd Avenue and the Central Park area were some of the trouble spots.
She also said young kids were getting guns from older male siblings or men in their families who didn't want to get their hands dirty committing a crime.
Kerri Williams, of the Watson Chapel School District, said she had one young man tell her he wanted to get out of the gang his entire family was in.
"I asked him what his mom thought and he said his mom didn't care as long as he was bringing in money to help with the bills," said Williams.
Williams said this trait has become common where young men are taking on the role of being the man of the house.
Flowers weighed in stating the problems with the kids stem from problems with the adults.
"That is who needs to be targeted," said Flowers. "We've got to figure out how to change some of these dynamics."