Rocky Mount, North Carolina — While Rocky Mount enlists a federal task force to address gun violence in the city, part of the effort doesn’t involve law enforcement at all.
Community engagement is a mainstay of the city’s efforts to combat violent crime, and it’s an approach activists have taken in the city for decades.
With four murders in the past week, Rocky Mount is under a declared state of felony emergency.
A federal task force is on its way to the city, bringing officers and new police technology in an effort to crack down on armed and drug-using offenders in high-crime areas.
But another element of the plan is community engagement.
“Meeting people you’re not used to dealing with, finding out what’s going on, what’s available and what’s not,” Brenda Cooper told WRAL News.
Cooper has been doing this job for a long time.
She moved to South Rocky Mount almost 40 years ago, and at first she was ready to go.
“I saw children who had problems and who had problems with school situations, the parents did not know what to do”,
But everything changed when Cooper woke up one morning to a crime scene outside her house.
“When I saw this I said we had to do something,” Cooper said. “Either I do something to help, or I leave the neighborhood.”
Cooper chose to do something.
It started with organizing trash pick-ups for neighborhood children, then came youth choirs and other after-school activities.
“Donating has become easy,” Cooper said. “Just treat them in different ways and let them see how you do things to help people, other people.”
Cooper says many of these kids became their own leaders; however, the violence and unrest she fought against still persists today.
This weekend, Cooper is planning a community day at a South Church Street amphitheater, complete with a barbecue and conversations with city leaders.
The hope is to show young people that there is love in these neighborhoods – and that a better life is possible in Rocky Mount.
“As a community, we need to step up,” Cooper said. “We have to show them that you know what, you can do better.”
Additionally, the Town of Rocky Mount also offers a number of summer outreach programs for children of all ages.