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Monday, August 25, 2008

Sisters With A New Attitude wants action

Group fighting violence wants answers

By Pamela McLoughlin
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Members of the grassroots activist group Sisters With A New Attitude — or SWANA — were counting on acting as hosts to police Chief James Lewis at their recent Meeting of the Moms session but, except for a few angered by his absence, gave him a pass for the cancellation because he had to attend a mayor’s meeting and is new to the city schedule.
"We’re definitely disappointed, but I hope we can meet with him in the future," said SWANA President Deborah Elmore.
SWANA member Selina Fair added: "We want some answers before another kid gets shot."
"Not only are they (young people) getting shot, but we don’t know who’s doing it," Fair said.
The group of women mobilizing to take back the streets and make them safer for youths will invite Lewis again because they say their tough questions aren’t going by the wayside, including, "Who is the source of the guns being supplied to our youth and what is being done about stopping it?" and "What programs are out there to take kids off the streets?"
Although Lewis had to cancel — for the second time — the group of about a dozen "sisters" and a visiting "brother," Alderman Robert Lee, D-11, had no shortage of agenda material to take Lewis’ place. The group brainstormed for two hours and plans quite a tornado of change for the future.
The group has decided to study the feasibility of a curfew for youth, such as the 9 p.m. curfew imposed in Hartford recently after a spate of severe violence there. Should such a plan look as though it could be effective in curbing violence, the group may petition the Board of Aldermen, although a curfew proposal has failed in the past in New Haven.
Issues that came up were the problem of holding parents accountable — usually through a fine many can’t afford — as well as protecting rights of youth, something high on Lee’s list, although he agrees that too many city youth are victims of violence.
They spoke of the "code of silence" among people on the street who are unwilling to tell police what they witness and agreed steps need to be taken to make that change.
Most of all, Lewis’ absence sparked talk about the importance of having a voice with more people behind it. Members of the group said they are going to tell their sisters, daughters, mothers, aunts, friends and others they know about the group. They also decided Lewis and other city officials need to hear from kids — so they are planning how to attract young people to a huge forum — whether through rappers, food or another form of entertainment — so they can "talk" to officials and help with solutions. Teens themselves will be part of that planning process, members decided.
SWANA also will try to unite many groups like themselves who are meeting around the city talking about problems. They’ll also address groups such as the Elks, Masons and others to get more people involved. The group is not limited to women.
"We all just need to come together...We need to find out what the kids today want," said SWANA member Elizabeth Murphy. "We can draw a lot of people. If you’re talking about something new, your kids are going to listen to you."
The Meeting of the Moms, an extension of SWANA, will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. every Wednesday at the Wilson Library. Regular SWANA meetings are held from 1 to 3:30 p.m. the first and third Saturday of every month at 50 Fitch St. Anyone can become involved in the group.

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