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PCAV On Stemming Peoria Violence: 'We Can't Do It Alone'

Tim Shelley / Peoria Public Radio
Peoria Community Against Violence President Gloria Clark speaks at a member meeting on July 21, 2020 in Peoria.

As Peoria makes national headlines after 13 people were wounded in an eruption of gun violence Sunday morning, a group dedicated to tamping down on crime is pleading for more community involvement.

Gloria Clark, president of Peoria Community Against Violence (PCAV), said the group is here to help, but the community at large needs to take an action to make a real change.

"I don't care if you join PCAV. I don't care who you join. You need to join something," Clark said. "You need to get up off your couch. You need to get up off your TV. You need to get off your phone. You need to come out in the community, and walk around, and see what's going on in your community."

Clark said it can be as simple as talking to your neighbors, their children, or a local pastor.

Her comments came Tuesday at a PCA-member meeting at the Tabernacle of Praise Church in the North Valley neighborhood.

Peoria Police Chief Loren Marion III traced Sunday's incident on a "roving street party" that bounced back and forth between a gas station on MacArthur Highway and the Riverfront before devolving into a fight and gun violence. More than 100 rounds were fired.

Marion said one of the problems is a recent influx of illegal guns on the streets, stemming from recent gun store burglaries in Peoria, East Peoria, Pekin, Monmouth, and Galesburg. Those guns are then resold on the black market--including to youth.

Marion said Peoria police already have seized 157 illegally-circulating firearms this year, but more work remains. Previous gun buyback efforts didn't rake in the illegal firearms police were targeting, he said.

One thing that will aid police in making quicker arrests is more community involvement, Marion said.

"I get that there are some individuals that if they are living in the neighborhood, that they are scared of retaliation. Believe me, I totally understand," Marion said. "But in order for us to take the dangerous individuals off the street, we need cooperation. So community involvement is huge."

Peoria Police Sgt. Sherrill Stinson said citizens remain completely anonymous when they report through CrimeStoppers. He said cash awards for information used to solve crimes also can be collected anonymously without revealing your identity publicly.

Marion urged those who know people attending the parties to let them know how dangerous they are.

"We had 13 people shot. Many of those individuals were bystanders. They were people that were there," said the chief. "Let them know, whether they're the organizer or they're attending it, they're contributing to the problem. Because we cannot have these parties continuously going on."

Credit Tim Shelley / WCBU
Tim Shelley / WCBU
James "Agbara" Bryson, founder of the New Millennium Institute.

Agbara Bryson, founder of the New Millennium Institute, echoed a sentiment from many leaders in the community following Sunday's shooting--party culture has changed for the worse since their youth.

"Parties used to be fun. What's fun now seems to be fighting, shooting, and seeing if you can survive," he said.

Bryson many youth have adopted "self-destructive, sabotaging mindsets" passed from generation to generation.  He recounted a conversation he recently had with two children about Peoria's violence.

"[One] just said, 'Well, you know, that's the way life is,' and put his head down. Twelve years old. The young man next to him starting laughing. 'Yep, that's the way life is,'" Bryson said. "But no, that's not the way life is. That's not normal. Their response is not normal. Their mindset is that this is normal behavior."

Over her two decades as a prosecutor and judge in Peoria County, State's Attorney Jodi Hoos said she's noticed kids are now engaging in gun violence at earlier ages.

"Twenty years ago, the ages of those people that were firing weapons. Nineteen, 20, 21. 22. The ages of people firing weapons now are 15, 16, 17. And that's incredible," she said. "So there's just been a huge dynamic shift and change. And if we can't get to those individuals when they're younger, we're all in a lot of trouble."

Bryson agreed, saying the key is reaching children when they're younger to help mold a better perspective.

"The more structure and firmness you are with young folks, the more they love you. Because they ain't getting it," he said. "They're not getting structure. They're not getting firmness. They're not getting love. That's going to have to come from us. Some way, somehow."

Aaron Chess, a South Side native and candidate for Peoria's First District council seat, lost his sister to gun violence in 2010 when she was struck by a stray bullet. He said it's important for people of his generation to have positive role models their own age.

After looting across the city of Peoria following George Floyd's death in May, Chess formed the "Peoria Cleanup Volunteers" to help in the aftermath. The group continues to meet up regularly at locations like the Taft Homes and Harrison Homes to improve the community, host cookouts, and start conversations.

"We just ensure that we're taking pride back in our city with these neighborhood cleanups," Chess said. "And going across town with a group of guys to ensure that we are catching our young men at a young age before they destroy their lives. But instead [we are] teaching them, and bringing them in, and showing them what love really is."

Chess said many young men he speaks with said they joined a gang to gain a sense of belonging. He said he tries to show them there's a different path.

"You don't have to join a gang to find love. Love is here within your community," he said.

Clark said she hopes the community at large acts to make sure this moment turns out differently than other pivot points in the past.

"Watching PCAV, trying to make a difference, trying to change our city, that's why I joined. And when little Isaiah got killed, I'm like, I know this is it. This is going to be our big change. And everyone's going to come out, and this is going to be it,'" she said. "And now we're right back to the same thing. There hasn't been any changes."

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.