LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Gang violence has spread fear throughout the city of Little Rock. Now the people at the heart of that violence say it is over.
A community leader said he has helped broker a truce between a dozen gangs.
“We agreed: there’s too much violence in the city,” explained Dr. Julius Larry, a community activist and publisher of the Little Rock Sun. “We agreed who’s causing it--some of it--and as men, candidly, there were admissions. ‘We’re a part of the problem, and we’re going to remove ourselves from being that part of the problem.’”
Larry had been working for a couple of months to identify some of the key players in the many gangs around Little Rock. Officials in the Little Rock Police Department believe gangs are responsible for much of the increase in violent crime over the last few years.
Larry said a series of drive-by shootings in June spurred him to act, specifically one in which a seven-year-old boy was inadvertently shot while playing in his front yard. He used his connections to reach out to the many gangs that operate south of I-630, and said that he brought them together for a meeting last Friday.
“Rather than see our city go by the way of other cities with curfews, zero tolerance, and a bunch of brutality, we decided that we’ll handle this ourselves,” he stated.
Larry claimed it was fairly easy at that point to get the gang leaders to agree to a truce. Larry showed them two alternatives for the future of their feuds: one with a truce, and one without. Worries about the worst-case scenario for the anti-gang task force created by Governor Asa Hutchinson last week spurred them toward reconciliation.
“Our main fear,” he said on behalf of many people concerned about gang violence, “is that outside forces from law enforcement, who [don’t] know the city, [don’t] know any of the actors, will come in and shoot someone, and then we have a different problem on our hands.”
He believes that would lead to protests from national groups, rioting, and a permanent stain on the city’s reputation.
Along with peace, the gang members want help from the city. According to the agreement they signed with Larry, they plan to petition the Little Rock Board of Directors for funding for special projects in Ward 1 and Ward 2, where they live. They want neighborhood beautification improvements such as sidewalks and blight removal; more parks and community centers; and additional job training and summer employment programs to create beneficial opportunities for people from impoverished neighborhoods.
“Black people have been paying taxes here for many years, and they have not received the level of city services that they believe that their taxpayers dollars would’ve entitled them to,” Larry explained.
Larry has begun crossing off days on a calendar in his office each time one passes without an act of gun violence from the gangs that agreed to the truce. He has set 90 days without a shooting as his first goal. He believes that will show if the gangs are serious about peace, and whether the rest of the city should join them in their mission of reconciliation and revitalization.
Some city leaders told us they are skeptical about this truce, but that they are willing to see if the gang members can abide by it.