East Side residents unite against violence

The death of four-year-old De-Earlvion Whitley has fueled a new, forward-looking conversation on violence.

East Side residents packed the Lemuel Smith Christian Center, 102 Hub Ave., on Sunday to address fatal violence and to create solutions to reclaim their community.

The meeting is the first of many monthly meetings to come for the East Side community, according to meeting organizer Alvin “Big Al” Gertman, who cuts hair at Divine Edge Barber Shop.

“I’m tired of doing fundraisers and barbecue sales to help someone bury their loved one,” Gertman said as he gripped the microphone in the warm compact building. “Enough is enough.”

Gertman organized the meeting via Facebook when he heard the news that four-year-old De-Earlvion Whitley was killed in a drive-by shooting last Wednesday on the East Side. He posted alarming questions on Facebook, which generated a great deal of responses.

“How many people are tired of the same old crap? When are we going to take back our community?” Gertman said in an interview after the meeting. “People started responding and said, ‘Al you should put together a meeting.’”

A sea of shirts inscribed with non-violent messages read “Stop the violence” and “Everytown for Gun Safety” indicating the ultimate goal: less violence.

Gertman expressed the importance of being available in the community. He passed around a large notepad and asked residents to write down their contact info. He also encouraged the 50 or so attendees to grab the microphone and speak their mind.

Brett William O’Connor, Whitley’s grandfather, advised the audience not to view “tattle-telling” in a negative light. He then challenged those in attendance to view the tragedy through his eyes, and asked if they would tell the authorities.

Brett William O’Connor, reminds the community how old his grandson, De’Earlvion Whitley was during Sunday’s meeting against violence at The Lemuel Smith Christian Center. Jose Arredondo / Folo Media

“If you feel like you know something, tell for the person that suffered” O’Connor said. “Then think about his mama. Then think about his daddy. Think about his seven-year-old brother that was right there crying, ‘I should of pushed him out of the way.’ Seven years old? He’s got to live with that for the rest of his life. Tell for him.”

Jeneea Moore says East Side residents should not wait until someone dies to unite. She believes a community’s duty is to assist each other in any circumstance. Moore’s voice rose as her spirited message echoed in the compact room.

“I am convicted because now I know I have to get off of my couch. I have to lose some sleep so somebody else doesn’t have to cry at night,” said Moore as the audience clapped loudly in agreement.

Ritea Acosta, 27, father of two, heard the gunshots that took the life of De-Earlvion. Acosta grew up on the East Side and suggested that the community hold each other accountable for their actions, because it lacks discipline.

Acosta credits the discipline he received from coaches, teachers and the community for keeping him on the right track. In contrast, he sees the limitations parents create for adult figures.

“We really have to get out of this whole mentality of, ‘Nobody can tell me anything.’ Then it becomes a mentality of ‘You can’t tell my child anything,’ ” Acosta said. “When I was growing up you would get four or five whoopings before you got home.”

Various speakers followed Acosta and touched on issues such as negative lyrics in music to the lack of guidance and compassion towards the youth. Oscar L. Dean Sr., pastor of Corner Gate Christian Church, concluded the meeting with a prayer. Community members formed a circle, gripped hands and bowed their heads.

This article was originally published by the H.E. Butt Foundation’s Folo Media initiative in 2017.