Community told to ‘get involved’ by pastor

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 10, 2009


LAPLACE—There’s a front line in every battle and in Woodland Quarters, it’s along Cardinal Street.

And Pastor Donald August Sr., minister at Rising Star Baptist Church, says the reason for fighting is clear.

“We don’t have the problem yet, but if we don’t take control, the drive-bys (shootings) will come … the prostitutes will come.”

August made his comments to a gathering of about 50 persons, including a panel made up of Sheriff Wayne Jones, Assessor Whitney Joseph and parish councilmen Dale Wolfe and Charles Julien as part of a Town Hall meeting at Rising Star Thursday night. It was the second such meeting as August’s church seeks to increase interaction between elected officials and members of the community.

“Divided communities fail, but in unity there is strength,” August said in his opening prayer.

As with the initial meeting, August invited a number of elected officials — although he pointed out more than once that there were no members of the judiciary in attendance — to give community members an update on what their respective departments were doing.

Jones told residents his department was working to curb crime, but needed the community’s assistance to let them know what is going on.

“We know who these people (lawbreakers) are … we know where they are,” August reminded residents.

Jones said he has requested the state pull the liquor license for Club Exquisite, where a homicide recently occurred. That statement brought a loud round of applause from the crowd.

“We average about eight homicides a year (in the parish), but through June 15 we only had one,” Jones said. “Then, we had the two there (in local clubs).”

Jones said the two involved were ages 17 and 16.

“If they followed the law, they wouldn’t have been in there (in the club).” Jones also told the gathering that law enforcement had responded to “about 30 calls there in the last six months.”

He added, “We think we have the person (responsible for the homicides) identified” and expect to make an arrest.

Jones also shared information about the arrest of Anthony Belvin, who he described as a known criminal and drug dealer in the community.

“We investigated the case about four months and on July 7, we conducted a raid at 10 p.m. and made the arrest as he was actually selling drugs out of a window. This person was distributing serious amounts of drugs — including $50,000 in street value seized during the raid.

“Taking him off the street is a major accomplishment.”

Jones said Belvin had 28 prior arrests, but no convictions.

“He’s in on $100,000 bond with no 10 percent, so I think he’s going to stay in jail until the trial.” Jones said his department had evidence he felt would result in Belvin’s first conviction and added that law enforcement was getting the best cooperation from judges in more than a decade in making it more difficult for criminals to get out of jail.

“This is the tip of what’s happening,” Jones said of the drug arrest, “and between now and the end of the year, there’s going to be more of this to come.”

Also talking crime was Darlene Cusanza, executive director of Crimestoppers, who told the audience that her non-profit organization serves eight parishes, including St. John, and that a billboard would soon be going up on Airline Highway between the hospital and East St. John High School.

Cusanza reminded the gathering that Crimestoppers provided complete anonymity, which helps protect persons from possible retribution — a growing problem in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

The audience also heard from Joseph, who explained how the assessment and taxing system works, and from both council members.

August reminded community members that they needed to get involved.

“The challenge is now,” he admonished. “They (officials) need us to be involved … we need to take ownership of the community.”