DECATUR — Marches, meetings and programs to curb violence in Decatur date back two decades, if not more.
But a juxtaposition of shooting deaths — Isaiah Wiley on Dec. 9 on East Waggoner Street, Jarvas Thomas on Dec. 10 in Galloway Park, and 20 children and six adults Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., — continues to drive local residents toward the conclusion that something else needs to be done.
Decatur City Councilman Patrick McDaniel, along with Macon County Sheriff Thomas Schneider and Apostle Roland C. Cook of God’s Supply House, have called a town meeting for Wednesday evening in the Decatur Public Library to brainstorm ideas for keeping more young people out of “the gangs that have created an atmosphere of violence” in the community.
Sixty to 70 elected officials, church pastors, neighborhood groups and providers of youth programs have been invited to attend, and the public is welcome to come.
“The room holds 150 people, and I hope there are 150 people there,” McDaniel said.
Wednesday’s town meeting grew out of two efforts by pastors, the first a pastoral letter published Dec. 21 in the Herald & Review that represented a dozen churches.
They were Central Christian, Crestview and Prairie Avenue Christian (Disciples of Christ) churches; Elwin, First, Grace, Mount Zion and Sharon United Methodist churches; First Congregational United Church of Christ, First Lutheran Church, First Presbyterian and St. John’s Episcopal.
The second was a citywide worship service Dec. 30 at the Decatur Civic Center, organized by three outreach ministries, God’s Supply House, Heart of Christ and New Vision Christian churches.
Among those attending the service were McDaniel and Schneider, who began discussing the possibility of following up the service with a town meeting.
“I didn’t hesitate,” the sheriff said. “We’re doing a lot of things that are working, but we can always serve the public a little bit better.”
Cook said he hopes the meeting leads to real change that makes the community a better place to live.
“Everybody has to get involved,” he said. “We can make a difference if we work together.”
McDaniel said he’s a big believer in involving the public at the beginning of a process so everyone feels as though they are part of the solution.
“I think this will build on things that have been done in the past and that are still being done,” he said. “We hope to begin a sustainable dialogue.”