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Surge in youth violence focus of Texarkana community forum

by Greg Bischof | November 18, 2021 at 10:00 p.m.
Texarkana, Arkansas, Police Chief Kristie Bennett speaks to a group gathered at the Church of the Living God No.4 during a community forum Thursday evening. The forum focused on a recent surge of youth violence in the Texarkana area. (Staff Photo By Greg Bischof)

TEXARKANA, Ark. -- To Pastor Anthony Ware, Thursday's community forum on crime issues and solutions came down to one thing -- converting talk into action.

"We talked about trying to reduce crime, but now it's time to stop talking about it and start being about it," he said.

Ware, along with other clergy members, as well as city and public school officials and residents gathered at Church of the Living God No. 4 to provide insight as well as try to hammer ways of dealing with a recent spike of youth oriented crime.

Arkansas-side Police Chief Kristie Bennett said that during the last several months, the Texarkana area has seen a jump in violent crimes, such as assaults, robberies, battery, gun theft, car burglaries and murder involving juveniles and young adults.

Dr. Becky Kessler, Texarkana Arkansas School District superintendent, said she knows of one parent who drove her child to a place where that child could fight with another student.

"Three restroom in our high school have also been destroyed," she said.

Ware said Bennett has worked very well with the communities and neighborhoods and has put together programs that, in the past, have helped keep crime by youth in check.

However Bennett herself said that recently, more kids -- as young as 13, 14 and 15 -- are now being put in jail.

"We don't want to put kids in jail, but the responsibility needs to be on all of us, because now, it's an ever evolving issue," she said.

Arkansas-side Mayor Allen Brown said the police are working the very best they can, but he added that residents, both kids and adults, need to help more by reporting more immediately about what they see and hear through social media.

"We aren't helping if we don't start getting people to report what they see and hear social media," he said. "Right now, the city is financially in the best shape it's ever been in decades, but you need to help the police more by reporting more of what you hear and see."

Local resident Donny Reed said Bennett's Pride Academy for youth has had a super positive impact on juveniles -- until COVID -19 hit.

"We would love for the Pride program to get bigger," he said.

Ware told one of the speakers that the forum will be just one of many discussions being planned by local the Pastoral Alliance.

"It's our community and we have to be in it for the long hall." he said. "But we got to be real and we got to be honest."

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