Citizens gather to protest violent crime in Selma

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 26, 2003

Outraged at the murder rate in Selma, a group of citizens representing local organizations gathered at the foot of historic Pettus bridge Tuesday morning to outline plans for what they hope will be a community-wide response.

Of particular concern for the group is the rash of murders in Selma in recent weeks, during which four young men have been shot and killed or seriously wounded in the Selma area.

According to a press release, the coalition says that the murder rate in Selma is higher than that of all of Canada. In its press release the coalition also notes that the problem affects all citizens, yet there has been little public expression of outrage or concern in the community at large.

The group is urging the Selma City Council and Dallas County Commission to declare a &uot;state of emergency&uot; for the area.

Sam Walker, on staff of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute and local chapter president of Alabama New South Coalition (ANSC), convened the gathering which was covered by area media, including television.

The other groups represented in the coalition include the National Voting Rights Museum; Peace &045; Mothers Angered and Forced Into Action (P-M.A.F.I.A ); Principled Ownership and Wealth Acquisition (P.O.W.A.); and a biracial ministers’ group which is holding weekly meetings, alternating between First Baptist Church and Brown Chapel AME Church.

Planned activities include street rallies and a film festival; a march against violence; encouraging equal law enforcement; establishing community tribunals; and developing an economic empowerment initiative involving street mediators in neighborhoods.

The first Marie Foster Street Rally, named for recently deceased member of the &uot;Courageous Eight&uot; from the civil rights era, will be held Sept. 30 at 4:30 p.m. in the parking lot of her church, Tabernacle Baptist, 1431 Broad St., where the Rev. Rodney T. Morton serves as pastor.

Faya Rose Toure, founder and president of the National Voting Rights Museum and a leading spokesperson for the coalition, said that Foster had expressed fear and concern for youth and street violence in the area where she lived.

In connection with the rallies the film, &uot;Bowling Columbine,&uot; a documentary on violence will be shown.

The second planned rally/film festival will take place on Oct. 6 in the parking lot of Ebenezer Baptist Church, 1548 LeGrande St., where the Rev. Dr. F.D. Reese, another member of the &uot;Courageous Eight&uot; serves as pastor.

A third rally is planned for Oct. 14, with location to be announced.

Planners are hoping for more rallies/film festivals by additional sponsors to spark discussion, interest and concern leading to community action against what they perceive to be the reign of violence.

A March Against Violence, sponsored by P-M.A.F.I.A, Twenty-first Century Youth Leadership Movement and MOMS is planned for Oct. 18 tp commemorate the victims of recent crimes. The march will begin in Selmont and continue in Selma. According to Patricia Paige, archivist at the National Voting Rights Center and spokesperson for P-M.A.F.I.A., the march addresses not just the behavior of individuals but the systemic injustices that help produce that behavior, such as poor education and limited to non-existent job opportunities.

Paige said that her newphew, Mwenye Paige, who was 20 at the time of his death in 1999, had been shot and killed in the Food World parking lot. His three assailants were apprehended and later convicted, she said.

Ni’Key Reeves, acting director of the newly formed P.O.W.A., added that her organization is addressing the root causes of violent behavior, including poverty and unemployment. For example, the group is sponsoring workshops to empower young males and females to learn salesmanship and other life skills that will enable them to function effectively in today’s economy.

Toure said that the poorest parts of Selma and the Alabama Black Belt are in a depression every bit as severe as the Great Depression of the 1930s.

A third initiative planned by the coalition involves encouraging law-enforcement officials to exhibit equal concern for both black and white murder victims and their families.

Two participants at the rally, Louise Soles and Sherry Goldsby, mother and sister, respectively, of Arthur Lee Soles, 34, expressed concern at the lack of progress of the investigation into his alleged murder. It is believed Soles was murdered in Lowndes County on March 7, but authorities have not yet ruled in the case.

A fourth prong of the multifaceted plan of action of the coalition is to organize what are being called &uot;Community Tribunals&uot; to help resolve disputes before they escalate into violent behavior. If requested, the coalition will organize a tribunal consisting of three members of that community, plus an attorney and a law enforcement official, to assist in conflict resolution when a street mediator cannot deal with it successfully.

Finally, the coalition is planning an economic empowerment initiative. Initially, 20 young people will be recruited, trained and assigned to be street mediators in their communities. Funds are being solicited to provide a modest stipend for the mediators.

According to Sam Walker, the coalition is seeking financial sponsorship of these mediators from individuals and groups, in recognition of the importance of having some form of income.

Toure emphasized the importance of a spiritual undergirding for the whole effort. Many of these young people are spiritually dead, she said, and they must be brought back to life.

The Rev. James Jackson, pastor of Brown Chapel AME Church, spoke of the efforts of the biracial ministers’ group of which he is a part that is meeting weekly and praying for spiritual renewal leading to a lessening of violence.

The coalition press release praised the efforts of many over the years to address the problem of violence in Selma, and calls on churches, organizations, businesses and households to join in the movement to reduce the level of violence. Particularly mentioned for praise is the work of Citizens Against Violence and SCOPE, under the leadership of Barbara Brown.

For further information, contact Pat Paige or Sam Walker at 418-0800 or Ni’Key Reeves at 875-9264.