Anti-crime group plans forum to ease racial tensions

Save Our Sons aims to prevent Ferguson, Missouri, chaos from coming to town

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A prominent anti-crime group announced plans Friday to prevent something like the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, from happening in Jacksonville.

Save Our Sons is holding an open forum next Tuesday evening on the city's Northside. It's designed to address racial tension and bridge the gap between police and the people they protect.

Organizers are concerned that Jacksonville is vulnerable to chaos similar to what Ferguson has experienced since a white policeman shot and killed an unarmed black teenager.

Organizers of the forum want to prevent that kind of unrest here, and they said it's going to take respect -- both respect of police and respect from police.

As the world has watched the protests and racial tension ignite Ferguson, people everywhere have asked: Could it happen in my neighborhood?

"Ferguson has shone the light," said Rev. John Guns, founder of Save Our Sons. "It has forced us to deal with the tension."

Organizers from Save Our Sons said Jacksonville police officers will attend the forum.

"They will hear from young people. Young people will get a chance to hear from them, because the balance of this is that our young people must learn to respect law enforcement," Guns said. "They must learn to respect authority period."

Church member Jason Moore said he feels there is racial tension with police, but he is optimistic things can improve.

"I gotta say, too, not every cop is a bad cop, but you do have ones that abuse their authority," Moore said.

Jeremiah Burch said he is hoping to encourage police to see beyond his dreadlocks.

"It's just hair. It's nothing, you know, I'm not a drug dealer," said Burch, who grew up on the Northside. "I got a decent job. I got a great family, but that's what they measure us as, being that."

Organizers know the key to the success of the forum will not just be to get people in this community into the church, but also to make them feel comfortable enough to say exactly what's on their minds.

The hope is that police officers will be able to share some of the challenges of their jobs in a tense environment.

"It's very frustrating (to not have cooperation from witnesses)," said News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith, "because so much of the information that's needed to solve a crime can come from civilian assistance."

The Save our Sons forum will be from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Saint Paul Missionary Baptist Church.  News4Jax anchor Kent Justice will be moderating.

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