People who participated walked with banners and signs advocating peace in the communities.

More than a hundred residents from the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County gathered at the Eastover Shopping Center in Oxon Hill, Md. Sept. 6 for the Unity Walk. The event was organized by the Community of Hope AME Church in conjunction with the Prince George’s County Police Department and Washington Metropolitan Police Department.

The walk, dubbed “Unity in the Community,” was to show the unity and collaboration within D.C. and Prince George’s County law enforcement and community leaders in the effort to curb crime in the area.

In the scorching heat, men, women, and young boys and girls, with banners above their heads – most calling for an end to violence within the community – walked alongside police officers towards their anticipated destination, Oxon Run Park, located in Southeast D.C.

According to Prince George’s Chief of Police Mark Magaw, unity walks have taken place annually for the last four years and foster a sense of trust within the community. “From a police officer standpoint, participating in events like this helps to build relationships with the community while getting to know what the issues are from a community perspective, so that we can effectively deal with them,” Magaw said. “We want to send a message to the community that the Metropolitan Police Department and Prince George Police Department work together every day with the community to solve the issues that are affecting our communities.”

Magaw boasts that one of the reasons why Prince George’s County has had a substantial reduction in crime over the last four years is because of the joint efforts of the community from both sides understanding that “what affects them, affects us as well.” A report released earlier this year by the Prince George’s County Police Department shows that crimes such as robberies, assaults, and theft have plummeted in the last four years. According to the report, between 2010 and 2013, the overall crime rate in Prince George’s County dropped 27 percent.

Assistant Chief of Police for the District of Columbia, Diane Groomes echoed Magaw’s comment by acknowledging the importance of working with the faith-based community and local organizations to raise awareness on reducing violence. Though the District also has documented a slight reduction in violent crimes, Groomes concedes D.C. police have more work to do in gaining trust. “Partnerships like this opens doors for us and gives us a better sense of how to communicate with residents,” she said. “Instead of us just being law enforcers, we want residents to see us as the peacemakers who are also part of their community.”

Community of Hope AME Church’s founding Pastor Tony Lee said, “This is just a portion of what we do to symbolize a larger partnership we’re already doing with Prince George’s County and D.C. . In this community, we’ve been blessed to be able to walk a journey with each other, so it has not just been the police trying to make the community better; it’s all of us helping to make neighborhoods better.”

Maria Adebola

Special to the AFRO