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Public meetings on gangs announced

By Greg Gelpi

In continued efforts to confront the county's gang problem head on, the Clayton County school system announced two community forums to discuss the issue.

The school system is inviting the community to attend the forums, slated for 7 p.m. Monday at Forest Park High School, 5452 Phillips Drive, Forest Park, and Tuesday at Riverdale High School, 160 Roberts Drive, Riverdale.

The string of violence has produced a strong showing of parent volunteers who have stepped up to combat the violence, and school officials hope the forums will further parental involvement.

"There's been a barrage of negativity that has brought parents out," said Mundy's Mill High School parent Lisa Dawson, who volunteers to monitor the school's halls and mentor students. "The presence alone has made a difference."

Dawson said that she can already see the sudden spike in parental involvement starting to ease.

"It doesn't need to be in ebbs and flows," she said. "It needs to be a consistent effort."

Michelle McWhorter, the mother of slain Forest Park High School freshman Krystal Williams, implored the school's freshmen to stop the violence in a passionate talk Tuesday and is expected to speak at both forums as well.

Other scheduled speakers are State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam, D-Riverdale, Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske, Clayton County Juvenile Court Officer Lorenzo Whitestone and Clayton County police Officer William Clendenen.

While forums are being held to involve the public, work is also being conducted behind the scenes.

Bill Horton, a spokesman for the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, said committees for the gang task force are meeting to identify the specific problems that are behind the recent spate of violence.

Although the structure of the group has been loosely defined as a faith-based committee, a law enforcement component, a citizen advisory council and an educational board, the task force has yet to take on any discernible hierarchy with identifiable leadership roles.

Horton said the group, still in "the embryonic stage," is working toward a more concrete structure.

He also backed up the contention by Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell that the task force could operate on the current day-to-day budgets and avoid using any additional parts of the county tax digest.

Leaving open the possibility of grant funding, Horton said the task force could prompt some reorganization.

"We may have to redirect some resources," he said.

The law enforcement component is a multi-jurisdictional effort composed of officials from the FBI, the GBI, local law enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

For more information on the forums, call Director of Student Services Mack Bullard at (404) 362-3810.

"It is our hope that through working together we can keep violence away from our schools and our children," Clayton County schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam said in a release.

Staff writer Justin Boron contributed to this story.