02-19-2017  3:27 pm      •     

Antoinette Edwards

We love you. We want to help you. But you have to help us too by staying away from gangs, drugs and weapons.

Work to stay out of trouble and your future can be anything you want it to be. Stay involved with criminals and crime, and you could find yourselves behind bars for a long time.

That was the powerful message delivered to a group of girls on probation on a Friday evening in Judge Nan Waller's downtown courtroom.  Roy Jay, chair of the African American Chamber of Commerce and founder of Project Clean Slate, hosted the hour-long event, designed to help the girls get their lives on track.

The event was part of a series of "call in" meetings named, "Standing up to Gang Violence: Not One More Drop. " As well as the girls group, the call ins brought in small groups of men and boys  to hear from community members, parents who had lost children, pastors, police and former gang members. 

Ericka Pruitt of Multnomah County's Department of Community Justice, told Portland's Nov. 9 gang task force meeting that 75 gang members had now attended a call in.

 "Everybody was there really clearly giving a message about accountability, but also a message about love,"  Pruitt said.

Lonnie Nettles, community justice manager with Multnomah County has been working on the call in program since last year. This year's "call ins" emphasized support and resources from the community.

Girls make up an increasing number of youth in Multnomah County's juvenile justice system.  Last year almost one in four youth admitted to Multnomah County's Donald E. Long Detention Center were girls. All told that was 91 girls. Their average age was almost 16; more than half of them were minorities. And in a city with an African American population of less than 7 percent, a third of them were Black girls.

Modeled on the work of David Kennedy, who created the gang-intervention program Ceasefire, call ins bring small groups of youth and older gang members into community meetings, where they are confronted with the consequences of continuing criminal behavior, but also offered support and resources to restore their lives.

Antoinette Edwards, director of the City of Portland Office of Youth Violence Prevention, told the mixed-race group of girls that everyone present was invested in their success.  She urged them to think carefully and make good choices so they could have successful lives.

"You are supposed to be here. You have a purpose, and I love you," she told the girls. "But you've got to stop fighting, and texting mean things. You are carrying a weight that is not yours to carry. Release it. We need you."

Edwards said she personally would intervene if anyone tried to hurt them, and she would answer their calls if they needed help.   As a sign that she meant what she said, she even handed out her cell phone number.

This meeting, for young women, featured mainly women speakers. Rev. Renee Ward recited a poem for the girls, and told them how to get help if they experience intimate partner violence. Anesha, 36, told the girls she had just got out of prison after a long sentence. She said her youth had been wasted because of bad choices, such as agreeing to hold a gun for a boyfriend.  She didn't want that to happen to them.
"If you've made a bad choice, choose again," Anesha told the girls.

Officer Chris Burley

Several members of the gang enforcement team also spoke. Officer Chris Burley told the girls he didn't want to arrest them. 

"We don't want to be putting you in jail because we know there are better places for you. But if your boyfriend asks you to hold a gun, or if he's telling you to walk the streets, we are going to be there and you are going to be arrested. So we don't want you to make any more bad decisions. We want you to make better decisions and we want you to be a success.

"We want you to have a happy life."

After the meeting, several girls told The Skanner News they had found the message helpful. 

Pruitt said the call-ins have been a success and the Department of Community Justice plans to continue them on a quarterly basis. 

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