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Pine Bluff ministerial group works to reduce violence

Pine Bluff police are investigating their 20th homicide in 9 months— but one local pastor is hoping to make a difference and reduce crime.

PINE BLUFF, Ark. — Pine Bluff police are continuing their investigation into a homicide that happened on Wednesday morning after 60-year-old Jerry Simmons was shot in a home on South Elm Street.

The incident marked the city's 20th homicide— and some leaders said that number was startling.

The Pine Bluff Interest of Citizens for Voter Registration organization has worked to reduce violence in the city since 1997.

Now, Reverend Jesse Turner, executive director of the group, said that one of the many solutions to addressing gun violence in the community is to get involved in the school system.

"You can't prevent homicides, but you can reduce homicides," Rev. Turner said.

He said that the recent increase in gun violence in the Pine Bluff community has been upsetting.

"Most people feel like they can solve their problems with a gun," Rev. Turner said.

For years, Turner has worked to highlight issues within the community— including addressing violence.

"We have three components, we are working with crime prevention, education and economic development [and] we want to join you in education," Rev. Turner explained.

Now, he said that there has been a push to bring solutions inside the school system through an initiative known as "Pen or Pencil."

"Pen" refers to a penitentiary, while "Pencil" represents education— students choose which path they will follow.

"Violence, homicides, or whatever, it has an impact on [student's] student habits, it has an impact on their grade [and] it has an impact on their personality," Rev. Turner described.

About 30 pastors are in the Pine Bluff and Watson Chapel School Districts, and walk the halls and talk with students and teachers.

Turner said that one administrator from Watson Chapel told him that the pastor's presence on campus has actually made a difference.

"We've seen a 33% reduction of bad activity on campus," Rev. Turner recounted.

That change happened in a one-year period.

The ministerial alliance started in the school district following a shooting inside the junior high school in March 2021.

Turner refers to the group as "pastors on patrol."

"Pastors and leaders in this city began to try to work harder to reduce the homicides or reduce the violence," Rev. Turner said.

That presence, he added, will allow students to feel like someone cares and hopefully will keep them from contributing to the issue of violence.

"Every life counts and we want people to stop using violence to solve problems," Rev. Turner said.

To learn more about how you can get involved in the program, call (870) 730-1131.


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