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Committee seeks solutions to chronic violence

The murders of two young people in December led to a meeting Monday in the offices of the Erie County Legislature under the new Buffalo Safe Neighborhoods Initiative Committee.Legislature Chair Betty Jean Grant set up the session in the wake of the murders of a young couple in the University District. 28-year-old Shameka Harris and 23-year-old Joshua Eatman were gunned down while sitting in a taxi on December 11 at the intersection of Bailey Avenue and Minnesota Avenue.

The membership represents an array of old and new groups fighting the city's constant violence. Grant is also looking for some new ideas from the range of perspectives on the committee, which will eventually write a report making recommendations on making the city's streets safer.

The chair is former South Councilman Jeffrey Conrad, now director of the Center for Employment Opportunities and an advocate of better help for those returning from prison re-entry. Conrad says there 7,000 individuals with criminal records who are on supervision.

"There are services available for these particular populations, but the individual who is off of supervision that has that conviction, they still struggle," Conrad said.

MADD DADDS President Dwayne Ferguson says there often isn't enough support for those on the front lines against violence.

"We are in the street 24/7. We deal with whatever goes on in the community. But if we don't have the funds to do the work that we need to do, then we get burned out, too," said Ferguson.

Kenya Hobbs from Buffalo Promise Neighborhoods told the group solving some of these problems is essential to saving some communities.

"We often say that that particular area of the City of Buffalo, that northeastern portion, is an area on the tipping point. What we do here and what we do going forward will be a clear indication of whether it will tip negatively and spiral out of control or whether we will be able actually to stabilize the community," Hobbs said.

Many of the proposals mentioned during the meeting would cost money, like keeping city schools open in the evening and longer hours for community centers.

The Initiative will meet again March 4.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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