Citizens Take Back the Mean Streets in Philadelphia

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"10,000 Men, A Call To Action" kicked off on some of Philadelphia's meanest streets Tuesday night, near 19th and Federal in the 17th District on the city's South Side.

It wasn't thousands that showed up, but dozens ... all African-American males, most in their 40s and 50s, some pushing 70, fathers and grandfathers hoping to make a difference.

"We're doing this for the children," one told me. Showing they care, patrolling block after block in reflective "Town Watch" vests, talking to residents and drivers, handing out fliers, chanting, "It's a new day, a peaceful way" and "10,000 strong can't be wrong."

We walked with them from a local community center to a gritty area a mile away, where they canvassed six square blocks, two-way radios and fliers in hand, talking to anyone who would stop and listen.

I saw curious stares from behind curtains, skeptical looks from some young people on corners, and honks and hugs of gratitude from others.

The all-volunteer effort is designed to reassure folks in the crime-plagued neighborhoods that people still care about their problems, spreading the word help is available for jobs, financial services, youth programs and more. The fliers have phone numbers on the back and words of explanation and encouragement on the front.

"Our goal is to have men out there six nights a week," organizer Norm Bond told me. "And we're still asking women to get involved. There's strength in numbers."

He calls the first few nights a "field test" utilizing "vanguard" volunteers, the guys who will act as troop leaders. The rest of the 10,000, the "peacekeepers," are still getting training in conflict resolution and other skills. They won't be armed and won't try to make arrests, but will try to convince people to find positive ways to move forward.

"We're not there to engage in conflict and confrontation," Bond told me just before the first night's patrol. "If people speak to us we're gonna speak back. If they don't our men are gonna keep walking and patrolling. By being a persistent and consistent presence, as this grows, people are gonna come around."

I asked if he was worried about the men's safety, considering the city is averaging more than a murder a day and shootings are common in the areas they're targeting.

Bond says they've taken precautions and have the support of Philly police, who were very visible the first night.

"Things can happen," Bond conceded, "but we can't sit back and do nothing."

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Rick Leventhal has been a New York-based correspondent with the FOX News Channel since June 1997. You can read his bio here.