COLUMBIA, S.C. — Struck by the recent killings in South Carolina and the nation, former gang members say they're joining forces to reduce crime in the City of Columbia.
Leaders of Word of God Church and Ministries International brought the men together about six weeks ago.
"Knowing that, if we didn't do something soon, the summer, it's about to be upon us and it could be a long, hot bloody summer, if we don't do something," Bishop Eric Davis said.
Alonzo Canzater is one of the men working to make a difference.
"We're tired of seeing our people die," Canzater said. "I feel like we're the ones who made it out the streets, by the grace of God, so we're the ones that got to have the chance to go make that impact to our community."
While all crimes are not gang-related, Police Chief Skip Holbrook, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and Fifth Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson said they've seen less violence since the group formed, but there's still work to do.
"I will acknowledge we have seen a decline in the last 14 days for us, especially," Chief Holbrook said to the men. "We've had almost 400 people shot in the last five years and I guarantee you that bullet's touched somebody you knew, loved and that's what this is about. We've got to stop this cycle."
As they work to reduce violence in their communities, the men said they'd like to see more investment from local leaders, including better living conditions, educational opportunities, and activities for children.
They also talked about communicating with those actively involved in gangs to discourage the behavior.
"Consistency," Jay Smith said. "'Cause I think with repetition people learn. So, to be able to have them together, not only have these talks but show them how somebody who come from a background similar to theirs can totally transform their lives and actually be of value to other people."
In the weeks ahead, they'll be working to learn more about the needs of the community to advocate for change.
The church is also planning a festival and other activities to engage children.