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Clayton marches against violence

By Aisha I. Jefferson

More than 150 people gathered for a march Saturday afternoon outside the Harold Banke Justice Center in Jonesboro to remember victims of recent shootings in Clayton County.

Chanting "Clayton County's on alert" and "We want Justice," participants walked around the perimeter of the justice center. The march was organized by the Cobb-county based New Order, a non-profit human rights organization.

They gathered for prayer and discussed possible solutions to help end the violence.

"As a community, we have a responsibility to make sure when our kids get home from the bus stop at 3 p.m. that they have something to do until we get home at 7 p.m.," Clayton County Commissioner Wole Ralph said. Ralph and Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill, who stayed briefly, were the only elected officials from Clayton County who attended the event. Commissioner Virginia Gray said she had a graduation to attend in Macon. Many of the officials were given a week's notice.

Riverdale resident and mother Rosalind Sconiers said many residents think building recreational centers may help keep some children occupied.

"There isn't anything for kids to do after school," Sconiers said.

Unlike other surrounding metro counties, Ralph said Clayton County does not have a YMCA, YWCA or a Girls & Boys Club.

"The special local option sales tax was supposed to allocated $40 million to build six centers," Ralph said. "Recently the commissioners, we had a vote whether to allocate or set aside the money for the six centers, and we voted not to do that."

Ralph said he was the only one of the five commissioners to vote for using the SPLOST funds toward building the centers.

"We're faced with the fact that citizens voluntarily taxed themselves for the six centers," Ralph continued. He encouraged marchers to attend the county commission meetings.

Clayton County NAACP President Dexter Matthews, who has three young children, questioned the commissioners' priorities.

"I think they should honor their promise to the people and build six recreation centers," Matthews said. "I feel that if they really cared, they would build the six centers to keep the kids of the street."

While the majority of participants were from Clayton County, one supporter came from as far away as Nashville.

"Even though this is happening in Clayton County, I think this is an issue that needs to be addressed," said Gerald Rose, founder and president of New Order.

Rose urged participants to go back to their communities and become involved.

When asked when New Order will have its next gathering in Clayton County, Rose said, "we'll be very, very visible down here."

Representatives of the Concerned Black Clergy, Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the Nation of Islam were among the organizations present Saturday.