MERCED — By the end of next month, the Rev. Don Ramsey said, he will be walking the streets of Merced at night in an effort to empower the community and curb criminal activity.
"We need the crime to stop in this city," said the St. Matthew Baptist Church reverend. "This is something that could work."
Ramsey, a volunteer with the nonprofit Merced Organizing Project, has spearheaded an effort to bring "night walks" to Merced, a component of the nationally recognized CeaseFire program.
Ramsey, in conjunction with the organizing project, has been calling on community leaders to walk the streets in violence-prone neighborhoods, a strategy designed to help residents engage their community.
"Over the last couple months, he's been working with the clergy and public officials," said Tisa Xiong, executive director of Merced Organizing Project. "I think they are starting to get the idea that building the relationships across culture and region is the way to go."
The theme of the walks are "ownership," Ramsey said.
"You said when you moved here, you were going to plant your roots, raise your kids and support this community?" he said. "Well, you support it in the good times, and you support it in the bad times."
The idea of brining the CeaseFire program to the city of Merced picked up momentum several months ago with support from law enforcement and the City Council.
Then members of the Sacramento CeaseFire program visited Merced to talk about the program, stressing the need for funding and contracting with a data specialist to identify the most serious offenders in the community.
It's not clear if the city will prioritize all parts of the strategy, but Ramsey said he's dedicated to carrying out the night walks.
"He took the lead to get this started," said the Rev. Phil Jenkins with New Canaan Missionary Baptist Church in Los Banos. "He's doing an awesome job to get the community and clergy together."
Getting people in the streets can give the CeaseFire effort momentum, Ramsey said.
"It opens up the door for them to ask for funding from the state," he said. "If we don't walk, they don't have a program. If they don't have a program, then all they're going to continue to do is talk about what could be."
The idea has garnered some attention in neighboring cities. Ramsey said he's met with community leaders in Atwater who are interested in the program.
There's been talk of bringing the program to the Westside. Los Banos is looking seriously at implementing CeaseFire and the night walks, Jenkins said. "We really need to rally around this project and support it," he said. "I would love to see it happen, and it's off to a pretty good start."
The next meeting to organize the upcoming night walks will be held on Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. at St. Patrick's Church, 671 E. Yosemite Ave. in Merced.
Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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