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For business, a way to help fight violence

The community activist looks at the violence and sees the lost business opportunities.

The business leader looks at the violence and sees the human tragedy.

Within those seeming role reversals lie the seeds of a common ground, with the potential to add a new dimension -- the corporate sector -- to the effort to stop the shooting.

That effort took on new urgency last week when bullets wounded two heroic cops, leaving Officer Patricia A. Parete in serious condition and uniting a community in prayer for her and a search for solutions.

Chairman Marc L. Fuller and others in the Stop the Violence Coalition have witnessed that kind of tragedy for years. They've helped families caught in the violence, negotiated gang truces and tried to steer teenagers down a different path. Yet they've watched the human toll mount.

So on his "Umoja Presents" radio show last weekend, Fuller put forth an additional reason we all should care: You can't attract business to a community beset by such mayhem.

"That's something that's been in my mind. We have not reached out to the business community yet, but it's definitely on our radar," he said later, adding that any company looking to locate here would "put the brakes on."

He's right. Unless you make guns, bullets or coffins, violence is bad for business.

Andrew J. Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership business advocacy group, is concerned, too, "not because of economic-development purposes, but because of the violence" itself, "whether it affects one job or not."

Rudnick notes that some urban areas with more affluence and more jobs also face violence, so it's not as simple as just getting more businesses to offer jobs. But he's ready to sit down with the coalition. "We're set to do whatever we can to participate, without a doubt," he said.

Coalition members say there are several ways the business community can help. It can fund a gun buy-back program to take weapons off the street. It can fund organizations that offer mentoring and GED training. And it can offer jobs to those who are ready.

No one's pretending that all the teens hanging out on street corners want -- or are prepared -- to work.

Many of them need "tough love" in the form of curfews, truancy laws and pressure on absentee landlords to shut down drug houses so the teens are, in effect, forced to make better choices, said coalition member Arlee Daniels Jr., the Neighborhood Crusaders chairman.

But Daniels, who uses his old street name "Joop" to let teens know he speaks from experience, says some of them are ready. They have gone through tutoring programs such as those at the William-Emslie YMCA and are employable if someone will just give them an alternative to the streets.

"There is a crop of young men about to go on the corners," Daniels says of younger teens. "[We need to] see if we can't cut them off at the pass by offering them a chance to do something better."

And that might be the biggest thing the business community can offer, the message "Yes, we care." That message could give hope to kids who right now think there will be no opportunity even if they play by the rules.

"A lot of it is hopelessness. A lot of it is despair: 'I can't get a job,' " said Buffalo Urban League President Brenda McDuffie, whose group joined the coalition.

Fuller cites Cricket Communications as one company that has stepped up to help; but more are needed. The good news is that both sectors appear to realize that it will take a joint effort.

The community leaders are ready to start knocking on corporate doors; the business leaders seem ready to get more involved. Maybe there's hope after all.


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