Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS- Now that three suspects have been arrested in the shooting death of a toddler, the community is coming together in an effort to solve New Orleans' violent crime problem.
Organizers hope the meeting is a first step toward curbing the city's alarming murder rate.
The shooting death of 23-month-old Keira Holmes has struck a chord in the community. Now, people from across the city are coming together in hopes of creating a strategy to decrease the number of killings in New Orleans.
"This is a symptom of a larger problem and what I wanted to share with you all tonight is what can be a movement to change the condition of the community as a result of that young baby's death, and so that all of those other deaths will not be in vain," said Dr. Joseph Bouie, the faculty member in the Southern University of New Orleans School of Social Work and former SUNO chancellor.
In City Hall Wednesday night, a panel of community leaders said they hope to begin a discussion amongst neighbors about what can be done to get young people off the streets and give them opportunities.
Dozens of community members attended, and many lined up to voice their opinions at a podium.
Organizers said "the urgent nature of the crime problem in New Orleans" prompted the meeting after a City Council Crime Committee meeting, originally scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed.
"I want to work with anybody in this room that want to work on stopping this crime and our kids from dying," said one man who spoke out in the meeting.
Minister Willie Muhammad was a member of the panel, which included social workers, a former police officer, and local and state politicians. Through his group, the Peacekeepers of New Orleans, Muhammad said he has mediated meetings between men ready to kill each other.
"We're finding out that at the very beginning of a lot of the street beefs that we've mediated, it's over silly, trivial things, but by the time the guns are fired and people are losing their life, then it begins to be more complicated," said Muhammad.
New Orleans' murder rate has already exceeded that of last year. And leaders say the cause of the issue has to be addressed before we can find a solution.
"It's time for us to alleviate this pathology and this disease and it only can happen if we come together and unify, create a plan, not ask, but demand, demand that it's put in place," said panelist Terry Clay, a gangster turned social worker who founded Safehouse Services, Inc.
"I can come up with leg initiatives that are ad naseum," said state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans. "A law is not going to fix our problems. We have to grab them."
Ultimately, panelists hope people become more involved in the lives of young people -- and in doing so, change their community so that no more innocent bystanders will be caught in the crossfire.
Those in Wednesday's meeting said some of the biggest issues that perpetuate violence include a lack of adult role models, education and economic opportunity.
They hope to develop a plan to present to the city council's crime committee when it meets on Jan. 4.