By Michael Stewart / Executive Editor
The Meridian Star
Hundreds gathered in Dumont Plaza Sunday afternoon for a prayer vigil and a call to action to prevent future violence like that of the past two months, which has seen two young men shot and killed and others seriously injured.
Congregations and pastors from all across Meridian responded en masse to the downtown plaza to pray for those caught in the cycle of violence.
"If we pray seven days a week we will not have prayed enough," said the Rev. Odell Hopkins, event organizer and pastor of West Mt. Moriah Baptist Church.
The problem of violence among city youth is not one that elected officials and law enforcement alone can solve, Hopkins said.
"James can't solve the issues all by himself," Hopkins said of Meridian Police Department Chief James Reed. "It takes community policing."
Residents have expressed a growing concern over recent events that include the Aug. 21 fatal shooting of Jaddarian Jimerson 23, who was gunned down execution style in the 2900 block of 10th Avenue while walking home from work, and the Sept. 17 death of Randarious Smith, 21, who was also shot and killed.
Arrests have been made in both young men's deaths.
"It is a shame to see us young people hurting and killing each other," said Meridian High School senior Kyshari DuBose, 17, who was among a large number of teenagers who attended the event. "It's sad to see many of us not making it into their 20s because of gang violence."
Other nonfatal shootings have occurred recently, with the latest on Saturday when police responded to the 5200 block of 5th Street where they found a 17-year-old boy shot once in the upper leg. The teenager told police shots were fired from a small white car that passed by.
It is not just shootings, however. Also on Saturday, a 79-year-old woman was robbed of her purse at gunpoint at a convenience store in the 500 block of Highway 19 North, and a man unsuccessfully attempted to kidnap a 14-year-old girl walking in the 1500 block of 22nd Avenue Heights shortly before 1 a.m., according to police reports.
Pastor after pastor led the hundreds who packed Dumont Plaza in prayers calling for an end to the violence and unity around a common cause. Bowed heads of all denominations, races and ages were in one accord.
Hands clapped in time as the West Mt. Moriah Baptist Church choir sang inspirational songs and the duo of Meridian Community College student Arbaneze Johnson, 20, and West Lauderdale Middle School student Michael Washington, 13, wowed the crowd with a mime routine to a popular hymnal that featured the theme "I believe."
The message was serious, however. Odell urged those present to address the problem of violence where it starts.
"We do a lot of things in the community and in church," Odell said. "But until we actually hit the streets where the problems really are, we are not addressing it."
Meridian High School 10th grader Infiniti Stribling, 16, thought the prayer vigil is a step in the right direction. She was glad to see so many young people in attendance and hopes for a better tomorrow.
"It makes me scared," Stribling said of the recent deaths. "I don't want to go out anymore."