Anti-Gang Initiative to Work Out of Westwood Community Center

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(Memphis, TN) Mayor A C Wharton’s office announced Monday that the 901 Bloc anti-gang initiative will soon move to work out of an office at the Westwood community center, where shootings have made headlines in the last six months.

The center and its park have been the site of two shootings, one of them fatal. At their annual meeting Monday night, the Westwood Neighborhood Association asked leaders to help them address the violence that has spiked since just 12 months ago.

“They are so sick and tired, especially our elderly people,” said Robert Gurley, the association’s president.

Last year at this time, “We didn't have a murder in this park. We didn't have a shooting. All this has happened in 2012.”

Gurley said there were five murders in their community in 2012, the most in the seven years Gurley has been president.

About 100 people showed up to the meeting at the center Monday night, saying the problem isn’t just confined to the center.

“I got shot three times in the stomach, and my cell phone was shot out of my hand,” said Andrew Gillard.

Gillard said he witnessed someone breaking into a home, so he called the police. When the suspect saw him on the phone, the man fired shots at him.

Gillard feels the problems are mainly drugs and unemployment.

Many in the audience felt there needed to be more opportunities for people to work for a living. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell addressed the need for training, with a growing number of specialized jobs requiring a certain level of skill or education.

Rosemary Winters said she feels more mentoring is needed. Her house was broken into in January, and now her young daughter is afraid to even walk around the house by herself.

Winters recently learned in court that the suspect was breaking in as part of a gang initiation.

“I just want the young people in the neighborhood to notice that there is a future to go to school and better themselves,” Winters said.

Some young people at the meeting demonstrated just that. Youth ambassadors stepped up to the microphone to ask Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong for more police presence and sky cameras.

The director explained how much that would cost, and how there are a limited number of resources to allocate throughout the city.

The citizens present, including members of the faith community, said they must step up themselves to promote better parenting and more activities for children.