Leaders of several Buffalo-based churches invited representatives of law enforcement agencies and City Hall to a meeting, where it was discussed how to improve cooperation to address violent crime. Clergy say they previously planned the meeting but also invited government leaders to ask how the churches might help.
The meeting, pastors explained, had been planned weeks in advance but in light of violent crime in the city this summer, specifically cases that unfolded in Buffalo's East Side, clergy decided to reach out to law enforcers and ask how they may help.
Violent crime tends to increase in the warmer summer months each year but Erie County District Attorney John Flynn explained that this summer, the narrative was different. This time, there were women and children murdered in separate incidents.
"What I think has been a difference this summer, and let's just be honest about it, is the fact that you have a 17-month-old baby killed," said Flynn. "You have a woman, a mother with her three children in a car, gunned down in front of her three children."
Community leaders say witnesses are reluctant to come forward out of fear of retribution. Flynn, like his counterparts at the federal level, has a witness protection program. County-level DAs have access to a pool of state dollars, when needed, to provide services including relocation of witnesses. Clergy present at Wednesday's meeting say they've offered to contribute dollars to supplement the DA's program.
"We are concerned because people come to us in the community and our congregations, in the neighborhood where our churches are in, and there is a level of fear that is a reality because of intimidation that some members of our community have decided to make their mode of operation," said Reverend Kinzer Pointer, pastor of Agape Fellowship Baptist Church.
Darius Pridgen, for one, serves as both the Buffalo Common Council President and as pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church and is a bishop in his denomination. In addition to church leaders, some of Pridgen's colleagues on the Common Council were also present, Ulysses Wingo and Rasheed Wyatt. Pridgen estimated that between the clergy and the lawmakers, the leaders standing behind the podium represent more than 100,000 people in the city.
"And to represent 100,000 people, over 100,000 people, and to come together... today was about solutions and how we as clergy and as the community of elected officials will be able to help our law enforcement going forward," he said.
Mayor Byron Brown was also present and made a pair of announcements regarding Buffalo Police. He said that an initiative through which officers conduct community outreach, the Neighborhood Engagement Team, is becoming a permanent program.
He also announced that in addition to the police confidential tip line (847-2255), citizens may provide anonymous tips to the police department's website.