MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — The numbers are staggering with a community reeling after six homicides since just this past April in Muskegon Heights, two of those juveniles.
The recent streak of violence brought police, city council members and residents together Wednesday evening at city hall to start a dialogue and lay out a plan of how to quell the violence.
It’s a problem that doesn’t have a simple solution, admitted council member Eddie Jenkins who organized the meeting.
“This isn’t a last ditch effort, this is the beginning of the future,” he said. “Young, middle-aged, old, this is what it’s going to take.”
The plan laid out Wednesday night by Jenkins–dubbed ‘Operation Heavy Hitter’–is two fold and includes calls for stepped up police patrols along with getting more people involved in neighborhood watch programs.
You should know your neighbors, it behooves you to,” Jenkins said. “I want my neighbor to make sure my house is straight like I’m going to make sure his is, that level of camaraderie and safeness makes you feel good.”
Muskegon Heights resident Fred Williams, who has been organizing “Stop the Violence” barbecues with his fiancé Yolanda Tate for the past year, unwrapped a banner during the meeting with the faces of 19 men who have been killed in the city in recent years.
“The community needs to step up and take action, he said, talking about the need to get rid of the notion that ‘snitching’ is bad. “If we don’t we’re going to have more banners.”
Williams’ banner didn’t include the more recent homicides in the city.
Adding two-man police patrols on foot in neighborhoods to encourage conversations and ‘small tall’ with residents is also included in Jenkins’ plan.
“People not saying anything, that’s been the biggest problem, they need to understand that the majority of all crimes are solved by citizens, not police officers,” said Officer Virnell France of the Muskegon Hts. police department. “We’re there to help you, but we can’t help if you’re not willing to help us.”
The Muskegon Heights police department recently hired five new officers for part-time duty and plans to hire three more.
Meanwhile, residents like Michael LaMay, who has taken to carry a gun when walking his young daughter to the bus stop, left Wednesday’s meeting hoping the plan won’t be a one-and-done deal.
“I hope that this is not just a show up and die thing, I hope that it’ll continue to get the ball rolling,” he said. “I plan on being here as much as I can from now on to see what I can do to help support the community.”
Jenkins says he’s planning to make these meetings a regular occurrence happening every Wednesday to ensure everyone stays on the same page. He added he’d also like to encourage more young people to come out to the meetings.