Preventing crime in the black community

Successes Unlimited sponsored the second annual Battle of the DJs event on Saturday, Aug. 6 along with the SPPD, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Duke Energy and anonymous donors.

 

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The skies were gray and rain threatened, but Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter was so busy pulling off the second Battle of the DJs: How to Prevent Crime in the Black Community event to even think about it.

Zipping around on her motorized scooter at Campbell Park Recreation Center, Lassiter found time to stop and hug a group of girls who thanked her for the event, which included entertainment, food, music prizes, school supplies and information on how to make our streets safer.

“I believe that if we get the community working towards uniting with the police and the police uniting with the community, then it will start a conversation, a friendship, a relationship and a lot of this crime will stop,” said Momma Tee.

In the thick of it every day, she knows you need to start with the younger generation to turn hearts and minds around.

“They keep trying to make decisions about these young people and what we need, but they don’t ask us. I prefer to ask them,” she said.

And ask them she did. Kids were asked to give their opinions on how to prevent crime in the black community by either writing an essay or creating a poster. The information from the children is then sifted through and issues will be addressed by the proper authorities.

For instance, an essay last year led to a corner store being busted for double charging people for food. The little girl who wrote it was upset that the prices were so high that her parents had to steal to buy food for the family.

Sponsored by Successes Unlimited Women & Youth Business Center, Inc., in which Momma Tee is the founder and CEO, the nonprofit organizes different events throughout the community. One such event is Lawfest, where for the last 12 years dozens of lawyers throughout Pinellas County are on hand to provide free, brief legal consultations to individuals in need of legal assistance in almost every area of the law.

But Saturday was about listening to the people who live the reality of unsafe streets, of homelessness and of raising children in this environment.

“This is about education,” she said. “It’s about love, fellowship and having a good time. Making all of us a little bit more conscious and thinking more about what we can do.”

Not one to mince words, Momma Tee told Police Chief Anthony Holloway that he needed to meet the people where they are, and he listened.

Every month Momma Tee and the chief meet in a location of her choosing to discuss what needs to be done to help people become self-sustaining citizens.

“From there we forged a partnership and a friendship, and I thank God for the favor and everything, he is open minded,” said Momma Tee.

She tells him stories such as one day when she was passing out flyers for an event and stopped to talk to two young men on the street corner selling drugs. They both told her they started selling drugs as a way to feed their siblings. Now both have graduated to full-time dealers.

“These young folks are not being opened up to the different opportunities they feel other people are, so they do what they have to do to survive,” she said.

She said as she rides down 16th Street and 22nd Street, she wonders where the promised economic develop is. When a community is thriving economically, the crime rate plummets.

“The city will have to find a way to stop putting everything downtown and on Central Avenue,” she stated. I’ve been living here 60 years and I’m still looking for economic development in my house.”

But one listening ear she has in Chief Holloway.

“It’s great for a police department to hear from the kids of what we can do to prevent crimes in the black community,” said Holloway.  From looking at the posters, it tells me that we need to communicate more and get more programs for these kids. It teaches me a lot.”

The chief said in their monthly meetings they discuss how to prevent crime, how to educate the youth and how the police department can communicate better.

“We’re talking to the kids more; we weren’t doing that,” expressed Holloway.

He meets with many community leaders monthly to get the pulse on the streets of different communities and the problems that are specialized to their areas.

“It gives me a chance to figure out not one area but the whole city,” he said. “I go throughout the community and find out what we can do better. And believe it or not, everyone almost has the same goal—getting the communication out.”

The chief praises his Park, Walk and Talk program for getting his officers out of the squad cars and into the neighborhoods.

“We should be a part of the community. Not just making arrests,” he said.

And he puts his money where his mouth is.

Recently Holloway got a call from Momma Tee to help a young mother not get evicted from Citrus Groove Apartment for fighting with another tenant. He parked his car, walked into the apartment’s leasing office and talked to the management, which stopped two evictions that would have been devastating to both tenants and their children.

With four children and pregnant with her fifth, Chanel Lambert and her children would have been homeless if Holloway had not stepped in.

“I got into a physical altercation with another tenant…we both were in the wrong,” Lambert stated.

Lambert said she was defending herself, but the property management did not care. She and the other woman both received eviction notices.

To make matters worse, Lambert has an autistic child who needs therapy weekly.

“What the hell was I going to do? I called my neighbors, my mom, my church,” she said.

One of her neighbors called Momma Tee, and Momma Tee got on the phone to Chief Holloway.

“They came out here and helped me. They didn’t take sides because both of us were in the wrong,” said Lambert. “All I have to do is community service, get mentoring and I’ll be OK.”

Holloway makes sure that he and his police department knows the community in which they serve.

Before cadets hit the road, they are taught how to shoot, how to make arrest and how to interact and communicate. After the field training program, each cadet must speak with a diversity panel and discuss what they’ve learn thus far. After a year on the road they come back and sit with another panel made up of people from all walks of life and discuss what they’ve learned on the street.

Many of the cadets could be seen volunteering their time on Saturday. They showed up at 8 a.m. and didn’t’ leave until they were told.

The winning posters are on display at the police department.

Essay and poster winners:

Elementary School

Essay:

  • 1st place – Aiyana Edwards
  • 2nd place – Zyeir Watson
  • 3rd place – tie Kayianna Marie Hughes & Chloe Williams

Poster:

  • 1st place – Natavia Hughes
  • 2nd place – Deondria Brown
  • 3rd place – Takala Hudson

Middle School

Essay:

  • 1st place – Ja”Marcus James
  • 2nd place – Jiana Williams
  • 3rd place – Janae Terrell

Poster:

  • 1st place – Ny’irah Brown
  • 2nd place – Raniya Abrams Darden
  • 3rd place – Joshanna Lyons

High School

Essay:

  • 1st place – Asia Scott
  • 2nd place – Semaj Costen
  • 3rd place – Ja’lissa Lyons

Poster:

  • 1st place – Ja’lissa Lyons
  • 2nd place – Alana Terrell
  • 3rd place – Beyonce Youngs
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