Group of young men organize 'stop the violence' effort

Deidre Cruse, Governmental Reporter

A group of young black men have banded together to help restore order to Plaquemine-area neighborhoods, hit recently by shootings and the murder in September of Cordies Gales.

Spencer James, the spokesman for the group at last week's Plaquemine Board of Selectmen meeting, said their first effort was a recent “Stop the Violence” rally at a lot on Iron Farm Road that drew more than 100 people, but they hope to expand to sponsoring boxing and mentoring programs to re-educate young men. Maurice Dempsey and Cordell Gales appeared with him at the invitation of Selectman Jimmie Randle.

“I was one of those guys,” James told the city council. “I know how it is...We want to eliminate the peer pressure, so you don't feel like you have to hurt somebody to prove you're a man.”

The change, he said, would not happen overnight, but “we're willing to do what it takes.”

“It's up to you and me and everyone to show the kids this is not the way to be,” said Selectman Oscar Milleion, who said he thought he spoke for the council in offering assistance.

Selectman Ralph J. Stassi Jr., who cited 30 years in public service, including law enforcement, said the problem was getting people in the neighborhoods involved in solving the problem.

He said 40 people might witness an incident, but none of them will step up to testify.

“Parents can't do nothing with them [sic], and that's where it starts,” Stassi said. “What can we do?”

“We can help talk to them,” James replied.

“I don't believe the police or any one of the seven of us sitting at this table can change the city,” Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta said. “It's up to the neighborhoods...I'm a firm believer that people change neighborhoods, not government. When you have crime in a neighborhood, the neighbors have to stand up and say we're not going to tolerate it no more [sic].”

He said he and the council's efforts to clean up abandoned houses and other property around the city to help the neighborhoods.

Randle said he invited the group to the council meeting because he hoped they would be able to use the City of Plaquemine Activity Center (COPAC) for some of their activities.

Gulotta said COPAC, already booked for 250 days of the year, would be open to the group for activities, as for anyone else.

“First you have to come sit with me in my office and tell me what you're going to do,” he said, which he said he requires of anyone wanting to use the facility.

After the meeting, Gales said the group hopes to work with city neighborhoods, as well as those outside the city limits, such as the Seymourville and True Hope Lane areas.

“We're taking the initiative to promote unity...We're creating a relationship with the broader community because it's going to take all of us to put this together,” Dempsey said, describing the effort as a “service to humanity.”