A national program that has worked to reduce crime in other parts of the country was introduced to a diverse crowd Thursday night at the New St. Hurricane Baptist Church in Pine Bluff.
The TenPoint National Training Institute was founded by Dr. Eugene F. Rivers III of Boston, who came to Pine Bluff with Rev. Terry Webster Sr., of Indianapolis, Indiana, who began a successful program in that city.
“We’re talking about a movement to save black lives,” Webster said. “We’ve got to move beyond saying black lives matter.”
Webster said he was motivated to do something to try and reduce violent crime when he lost a relative in 1977 during a stabbing in a prison, and 10 years later a younger brother who was the victim of a mistaken identity shooting.
He said his solution was to go to the streets with members of his church to minister and pray, and later, after Rivers came to the city at the invitation of the then-mayor, a larger group of pastors got together to form what is called in Indianapolis the Faith Patrol.
“Preaching is more than behind the pulpit,” Webster said. “The gospel needs to be taken to the streets. We mobilized our churches and we started to make a difference.”
He said that law enforcement agencies identified the areas that were the biggest problems in terms of violent crime and he and the other ministers “went in. We walked the streets praying and preaching.”
Webster said one of the first lessons the group learned was that they didn’t have enough resources to get everything done. Last year, the Indiana Attorney General designated $500,000 that could be used by communities that adopted the TenPoint model, $50,000 each.“We believe in prevention and intervention,” Webster said. “We’re not the police. We’re preachers, pastors. Sometimes when people won’t talk to the police they will talk to us.”
A pamphlet promoting the Indianapolis TenPoint program said that three previously violent neighborhoods were experiencing encouraging trends, including one with 792 days without any murders resulting from youth gun violence, 768 days without any murders resulting from youth gun violence and the third with 498 days without a murder resulting from youth gun violence.
Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington said she was excited about the program after doing her own research and talking to the mayor of Gary, Indiana, whom Washington calls her mentor.
“She said it could make a difference,” Washington said. “The (Police) Chief and I looked at it and talked about it and anything that can reduce crime we want.”
Washington said she came to the meeting after attending a balloon release at the Merrill Center, where on Aug. 9, 2017, a teenager was shot and killed by another teenager.
“That was a senseless homicide and we don’t want it to happen again,” the mayor said.
She also mentioned the death of Keith Wilbert Jr., a student at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff who was killed in a home invasion robbery in September 2015.
“We’re still working to solve that homicide,” Washington said.
Wilbert’s father, Keith Wilbert Sr., spoke to the Pine Bluff City Council Monday and was on hand Thursday to hear the program.
Speaking to the group, the elder Wilbert said the things that were being talked about should have been done years ago.
“Nobody was crying out then when a young man was killed, when a father lost a son who should have graduated,” he said.
Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant said that as chief, his primary area of concern is violent crime.
“We’re always willing to listen to anything that can be done to curb violent crime,” Sergeant said.
Rivers said the churches are commanded by God to “mobilize our resources,” and later said, “If the churches fail to respond to God’s call, then the blood is on our hands.”
The meeting had originally been scheduled for July 28 but was moved after a number of Webster’s family members were killed in the Duck Boat accident in Missouri.