DECATUR - City police couldn't send a representative to a forum Saturday on how to reduce gun violence, in part, because officers were investigating a fatal shooting that occurred hours earlier.
But almost no one, not even the participants themselves, escaped criticism at a breakfast meeting organized by Caring Black Men and the Decatur NAACP at Main Street Church of the Living God for the number of young lives being lost.
Lawrence "Moe" Dampeer, former MacArthur High School football standout, said people were pointing fingers at everybody but themselves.
"Everybody want to blame the police, but how many of ya'll will step up and tell that kid to get away from your house? How many of y'all will tell that kid there's nothing wrong with him? How many of you will introduce yourselves and let that kid know who you are?
"What about the kid who got his pants hanging down to the ground, whose shoes are untied, who can't go home? What about that kid? Which one of y'all is speaking to that kid?"
Decatur Democrat Bill Oliver, a member of the Macon County Board, added, "There are some things we let the people around us get away with by operating under a code of silence."
Their remarks came after some of the 65 people in attendance complained about police ineffectiveness and slow response times when fights are reported.
Leland Jones, who lives near Johns Hill Magnet School, said he has to break up fights himself because the combatants scatter when police arrive.
"I find myself in the middle of about 30 young men, all of them swinging, all of them cussing, all of them acting the fool," Jones said. "I live in a neighborhood where there's a lot of elderly people and a lot of youngsters like these kids here."
Eric Robinson lives in that area also and said police need to do some foot patrolling there. "Maybe we can't stop the guns from coming in, but maybe we can keep kids from using them," he said.
Nate Link suggested trying a gun buyback program and that callers use the name of a neighborhood organization when reporting problems to police.
Howard Edwards, principal of Stephen Decatur Middle School, said community policing should be the Decatur Police Department's No. 1 priority, not traffic stops.
Jim Taylor said 85 of the city's police officers don't live in Decatur and that some officers harass black youth into misbehaving. "Our kids are bad, but they make them worse," he said.
Jeffrey Perkins, president of Caring Black Men and the Decatur Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, made a point of criticizing the absence of pastors at Saturday's breakfast.
Churches with pastors in attendance included All Souls Tabernacle, Main Street Church of the Living God and Temples No. 1 and 4 of Church of the Living God.
Perkins also said he plans to ask people to "flood the (Decatur) city council chambers" to demonstrate "how serious people are about getting rid of the violence and drugs and guns in our community."
Macon County Sheriff Thomas Schneider responded that Decatur police officers faithfully attend meetings of the Coalition of Neighborhood Organizations, gun buyback programs haven't been that successful in Decatur, and a new mental health court and other programs are getting people help and treatment they need instead of sending them to jail.
He added that he has seen examples of bad behavior by parents as well.
Once, when officers were searching for a child who reportedly had a gun, Schneider saw a woman "pull down her drawers and shake her butt" at him.
Jay Scott, first assistant county state's attorney, said police need direct evidence to go into drug houses and get guns off the street.
"One of the biggest problems we have is people not wanting to give that information," he said. "We worked on a drive-by shooting a couple years ago where 20 to 30 people saw it, and we had maybe five come forward to testify in court."