Beaumont law enforcement seeks community support to address violent streak

Beaumont law enforcement seeks community support to address violent streak

“There’s only so much police can do.”

When Capt. Crystal Holmes of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office stood before a group of clergy gathered from all over Southeast Texas last month and asked for community support in addressing the growing community divide, she couldn’t have known that an all-out onslaught of violent crime was on the horizon. Still, she warned of unrest, armed youth emboldened by the sheer numbers in which they cavort, and a law enforcement system strained to keep up with not only increasing crime but also a violent escalation of the offenses officers are called to attend to.

Tears welled in the veteran officer’s eyes as Holmes pleaded for understanding and community support in battling social ills Southeast Texas law enforcement officers are faced with on a daily basis. All too often, she said, police officers are called to the scene of violent crimes, the uncensored sights of which would take a toll on any human being’s psyche; are engaged by children armed with assault rifles, who are frequently high on drugs or alcohol; and are faced with heart-wrenching domestic situations, such as children having children they are then unable to take care of or homes where every resource is taxed to the limit and still money for basic necessities like food and utilities is hard to come by. Holmes warned that little-known neighborhood gangs like YOG were growing in numbers and their message of glamorized violence and drug use was appealing to a group of youth disenfranchised by a society that has shunned them at worst, or just doesn’t understand them at best.

Since Holmes’ passionate plea, pregnant 19-year-old Kera Teel was gunned down by a suspected YOG gang member, her daughter Kyndal born and then dying within moments; an 8-year-old girl playing on the sidewalk was caught in the crossfire in a blood feud, shot in broad daylight; and young father Alkevin Mire died in his North End Beaumont home in a hail of gunfire as he held his 7-year-old daughter. Mire’s baby girl, seriously wounded, was spirited off to a Houston area hospital where she was clinging to life as this newspaper was sent to press.

But also since Holmes’ call to action, Southeast Texas clergy and congregations have been putting plans into action, taking up a position in the quest to quell the bloodshed by unifying the community at its base level. Cathedral Church recognized the need long ago. In fact, the revelations brought out of Holmes’ openness were sparked by a simple invitation from Cathedral Pastor Randy Feldshau, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Dr. John Adolph, and fellow Southeast Texas church pastors who requested law enforcement’s insights as to how the group’s Not In My City initiative (NIMC) could best serve the community.

NIMC, a grassroots effort to unify churches of all faiths and neighborhoods of all segments of the community, was revealed through prayer and meditation to Cathedral parishioner Charmaine James one year ago this July 5, she said, in response to her fevered petition to God in search of understanding and hope for a better tomorrow in the wake of deadly officer-involved shootings nationwide that have crippled communication, furthered divides, and exacerbated an already tense societal norm where no one really knows their neighbors anymore.

When James brought the NIMC idea to Pastor Feldshau, he knew it was his duty to act.

At first, “It was an instrument to bring about racial reconciliation,” he said. For years, Feldshau’s church was seen as a “white” church, although the current multi-racial congregation would dispute that if ever given the opportunity. “It’s no secret that Sunday morning is the most segregated day of the week.”

 

Feldshau, Adolph and others organized church swaps at the end of 2016 that reached more than a dozen churches throughout Southeast Texas and began the collaboration of integrating faithful followers focused on being the change they want to see in their communities. According to Adolph, the resulting melting pot has proven to be eye-opening and unmatched in its ability to reach such a broad spectrum of the population. Which is why the religious leaders decided not to stop with just ministering to the church – they have taken their message to the streets where they’re more likely to encounter someone who needs it.

Now, NIMC is working with Beaumont Mayor Becky Ames and City Council to conduct neighborhood meetings, supporting law enforcement officers by providing a team of clergy to act as first responders to be on the scenes of crimes and areas of high-crime pollution to assist with active issues as well as preventative tactics, organizing nonprofit and official cooperation and coordination of efforts to quell civil unrest and address the heart of issues such as drug use and violence by delving into the heartache and hopelessness that spurs much of the bad acts police are called to deal with.

“Beaumont right now is in a critical place,” Feldshau said. “We’re at a state that we have to come together – it’s no choice. We have a serious problem right now, and it’s time for everyone to roll up their sleeves and get involved in our communities.”

Sunlight Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Irvin Barrett agrees. He and a group of pastors roughly 30-strong are working out the kinks to get into areas where they’re most needed as quickly as possible.

“We’re coming together to better approach together what we are doing individually,” Barrett said. “As clergy, No. 1, we’re going to pray … community rallies, prayer vigils. … But, also, No. 2, we want to go to the areas where they’re committing these crimes, communicate, do some witnessing. Be there.”

Barrett said that, as spiritual leaders, pastors are called to serve the community in whatever capacity needs to be filled. Whether that is coordinating “programs to make a difference in the lives of these young people who are committing these violent, senseless crimes, working with police, convincing our people the best way to protect (those who have done wrong) is to get them help,” or any number of acts that could be exacted simply by being a presence in the community, Barrett said he and fellow pastors are here to answer the call.

“Our goal is (as early as Saturday, June 24) to aggressively and urgently try to pursue being a presence in our neighborhoods. Our goal isn’t to start another organization but to make the church stronger overall.

“We’re here to offer spiritual support, to counsel, console, make a spiritual difference in the lives of those who are hurting … that reaches beyond the sanctuary, the pulpit, where the people are hurting.”

Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Kenneth Bean said he was called to action when he saw what was happening in his city, in his community, and in his family. Bean is not only connected to Jared Bias, the suspected gunman in the shooting deaths of Teel and her baby, but is also related to the 8-year-old South End Beaumont girl shooting victim.

“Enough is enough,” he said. Although Bean is committed to serve God and the community, he says not only can the police not do it alone, neither can the church elders.

“All walks of life: Check your children,” he said. “Know where they’re going, who they’re hanging out with, what they’re possessing. Adults have to know these young folks are getting ahold of the guns they’re using to commit these horrible acts of violence.”

If it’s your child who is coming home with guns or drugs, do something proactive, he said, instead of waiting for police intervention.

“Don’t wait until your child has committed a crime,” he said. “Stop it now. Call the police and turn it in. I’ve never known anyone to be charged with a crime for turning in a gun that doesn’t belong to them or drugs that need to be taken off the street. Not once. Never have I heard of that being a crime.

“This all starts at home.”

That said, according to Bean, addressing the problem doesn’t end at home.

“It takes a village,” Bean continued. “We need to get away from the ‘That’s not my child’ motto.”

Bean, the father of eight, said he not only worries for his children, but all the children his children encounter.

“What am I sending my children off into? My kids are scared,” he said. “It used to be you had to be doing something wrong to get something wrong happening to you. … Playing on the sidewalks, laying in your father’s arms … that’s what’s getting kids shot these days.”

Pastors belong on the front lines, Bean said. Thanks to “Pastor Rodney” and his on-site ministry in Beaumont’s North End battling crime many years ago, Bean said he was molded into the man he is today.

“I believe we have alienated ourselves out of the communities – clergyman, collectively,” Bean said. “We should be available to people at their weakest and lowest point… even for those that don’t come to church … those that don’t know who Jesus Christ is. I’m a living testimony that Jesus met me where I was.

“Our mission is to drive out the violence with an abundance, an overflow of love. We want to make a positive difference; to cause people to put the guns down, stop selling cocaine and marijuana and meth; put in a job application. Not only do we want you to stop doing something, we want to give you the tools to start doing something better. Please stop the killing. Stop the shooting. Everything else we can work out.”

Above all, clergy throughout the area stressed, the community cannot heal, become better, safer and more cohesive without everyone getting on board and fighting to take back their neighborhoods.

“Get involved,” Feldshau said, stressing that it takes everyone. “Get behind these pastors; vote; run for office; support law enforcement; the blood running in these streets is not black, white or blue – it’s red. Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.

“This is not one group’s problem; this is our community’s problem. Quit blaming sides – come together and do what’s right.”

Feldshau and James said that Cathedral is currently in the process of organizing regional and periodic meetings for those interested in the NIMC initiative with dates and times to be posted on the church’s website at icathedral.org and available by phone at (409) 892-8475.

Sunlight’s Pastor Barrett said that there are also teams of pastors “more than willing to come to homes, businesses, community meetings,” etc., to counsel, pray or just talk to anyone who asks for their presence.

“We are more than willing to do it,” he said. “All we need is the invitation; we will come.” Barrett can be reached at (409) 832-1100, or via e-mail at pastorilb [at] aol [dot] com.

“Enough is enough,” Bean emphasized time and time again. “We are very well able to make a difference and be a difference we, the city of Beaumont, just have to come together.

“It only gets worse from where it’s at if we don’t do something now.”

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