Lillian Robinson prays during a Dunbar neighbor- hood watch community prayer service Thursday. at the Dunbar Community School in Fort Myers. "We have to help ourselves," said Robinson of the need to stop the violence in Dunbar. Robinson has lived in Dunbar for 57 years. / Kinfay Moroti/news-press.com
In a memo send to City Manager William Mitchell last week, Fort Myers Police Chief Doug Baker detailed the department’s response to the increase of violent crime in Dunbar. The department’s initiatives to prevent such crime include:
• Beginning a monthly department meeting to discuss Dunbar crime.
• Assigning two new community policing officers to Dunbar, and possibly a new lieutenant.
• Use of the violent crime task force, juvenile arrest and monitoring unit, neighborhood watch, youth programs and crime stoppers
The Dunbar community is in an uproar.
Fed up with finding its young dead on the sidewalk surrounded by crime scene tape, and aware the Fort Myers City Council and Police Department don’t have all the answers, Dunbar is taking matters into its own hands.
The main message when the Dunbar Neighborhood Watch got together Thursday evening – a message yelled numerous times from the podium throughout the night – was that it’s up to parents to make absolutely sure their kids don’t go down the wrong path. As master of ceremonies Ron Matthews said, a child’s options are either to enter the workforce or prison – or end up dead.
The community also called on God to help families help themselves. They prayed that their children – many of whom stood on stage in braids and bright-colored shirts – would be kept safe from violence, and they prayed for the souls of those for whom it is already too late. Representatives from FMPD, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the city of Fort Myers attended and received prayers as well, but neighborhood watch members who took the podium made it clear the responsibility to create change lies within the community.
“Our children are wrong a lot of the time, but we don’t want to take that responsibility to say that they are. We want to leave that to Fort Myers’ finest,” Mary Cosby said, gesturing to the law enforcement officers present. “Just like we need their help, they need ours.”
“I have been at a funeral singing every Saturday for the past two months. And our children are dying senselessly,” Cosby added.
Chevela Jones, a victims’ advocate with FMPD, read off the names of the 18 people killed by local violence since February of last year. Her voice broke by the 10th name.
Family members of those on the list were then asked to stand up and receive a gift bag in front of the room. Janet Fable, 48, of Dunbar, cried as she received hers.
“I cry every day,” she said.
Fable lost her 29-year-old son, Anthony Scott, last month. His wife, Mary Scott, found him fatally shot in a car in the woods near Blake Street and Evans Avenue.
The worst part is not knowing what happened, Fable said. Police have not given her any information on possible suspects. Until the person responsible is put in jail, her other four children will continue to stay away from the house, afraid the shooter will come back, Fable said.
“What did we do?” she asked, tearing up.
Fort Myers Police Chief Doug Baker said by taking responsibility, Dunbar Neighborhood Watch is on the right track to preventing more deaths.
“This is the type of message that needs to be delivered,” he said. “We are all an intricate part of getting it done.”
Baker, who has been attending these types of community outreach events since 1998, said he has seen them create a noticeable change in community attitudes. It may not come immediately, but five or 10 people at a time, the pool of people grows who will not tolerate violence, he said.
An encouraging twist to Thursday’s Dunbar Neighborhood Watch meeting was its high male attendance, Baker said. In past years, mostly mothers and grandmothers showed up, but the father-figure involvement is essential in raising children to tell right from wrong, he said.
“This is a nice turnout compared to what we usually have,” Matthews told the audience of almost 100 people in the Dunbar Community School auditorium. “Guess what? The place should be packed.”
Matthews promised those attending Thursday that change would come. Dunbar will lower the crime rate and bring businesses back to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard – including the long-vacant McCollum Hall, he said.
“We’re going to do it ourselves,” Matthews said.