Weeks before Black Lives Matter protests started in Lubbock, AJ McCleod and a group of East Lubbock residents were walking their neighborhood to show support and offer mentorship to young black people in their community.
“We said we’re going to become the new gang of the neighborhood, where we pull up and talk to our young men about losing their lives and about the consequences of being in the streets," McCleod said.
It started after 17-year-old Christopher Jolly was murdered on May 5. An uptick of gun violence in the area called for action, McCleod said. The Peace on the East walks were the response.
“We’ve seen so many people pass away in recent times due to gun violence," the community leader said. "We came together and said we’re not just going to meet and talk about it. We’re going to be about action."
The first few walks had a good turnout, more than 50 people. The crowd waned a bit, but always had 15 to 20 attendees.
“It’s not about how many people come out, it’s about the consistency that our young men see,” McCleod said.
McCleod, YWCA community youth development leadership director and a lifelong resident of East Lubbock, said they stop and talk with residents about their concerns.
“Things that we haven’t heard before," he said. "About police response, about issues with calling police and how young people are getting these guns and the reason behind it all.
“If we don’t want citizens taking matters into their own hands, we need to hear these things so we can say, ‘Hey, in order for them not to be carrying guns and having guns, respond when someone calls just like you would on the west side of town or any other part of Lubbock.”
He called the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis a tragedy. McCleod doesn’t think Lubbock has some of the same problems as other cities, but there is work to be done to build a better relationship between police and minority populations.
“In our community, in our nation, across the world right now, you don’t have that trust," he said. "You don’t have that belief that if you call the police I’m going to survive it.”
That means responding when people call and communicating.
“Having that awareness to say, ‘We don’t treat you any kind of way because of the color of your skin. But your actions are what we have to react to,’" McCleod said. "That fosters a sense of trust.”
Tuesday’s Peace on the East walk drew a crowd of about 200, many of whom have peacefully protested elsewhere in the city over the past few days. They walked through neighborhoods and spread messages of unity. People waved from their yards. One supporter followed the group around, and through his car speakers , played speeches from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Peace on the East group will meet at Butler Park at 7 p.m. Thursday for games and community building. At 10 a.m. Saturday, a group is meeting at the Mae Simmons Baseball Fields for a community cleanup. Masks and gloves are encouraged.