BRADENTON -- In the wake of a major bust by law enforcement, community organizations and agencies continue their efforts to unify a community in East Bradenton plagued by crime and fear for too long.
On Thursday, federal officials announced the indictment and arrest of six men charged with racketeering conspiracy and a ruthless slew of crimes that include homicides, drug trafficking, kidnapping and armed robberies. Law enforcement believe they have removed many of the primary players in a crime ring that has caused fear in communities, including the one surrounding the 13 AV Dream Center.
Last Aug. 1, Brenton Coleman Sr. was fatally shot after a pee-wee football practice at the center in front of a few hundred children and families.
The 13 AV Dream Center made a call to action and initiated its Manatee Metro Action Plan, focused on seven areas of change: crime reduction; economic opportunity; education; health; mentoring and family values; ministry and evangelism; and social justice and equality.
On Saturday, the center hosted a Community Awareness Family Funfest as part of this continuing effort. The event was hosted with the partnership of Westside Funeral Home, the City of Bradenton's Central Community Redevelopment Agency, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and the Bradenton Police Department.
Bradenton police crime specialist Scottie Camacho was at Saturday's event as part of
a continuous effort to get the community involved.
"We want to bring neighborhoods together," Camacho said. "We want to link our community with the Bradenton Police Department, and we are hoping to build relationships with events like this."
Getting members of the community to become involved is part of the preliminary phases of creating a crime watch group. East Bradenton currently has about 12 or 13 such groups, and the department is trying to expand.
"We are hoping with these arrests that people will start to feel more comfortable in their neighborhood and that people will start communicating more with each other and with departments," Camacho said.
Education is key, she added.
"We can know who the bad guy is, we can have all the pieces, but we have to be able to prove it," Camacho said. "That is why the communication is so important."
Larry Johnson, program director and chair of the Real Men Movement, which started under the Dream Center's initiative the Manatee Metro Action Plan, remained focused on the center's goals for community events.
"All we are trying to do is to unite the community," Johnson said. "It has nothing to do with anything else."
With events like Saturday's, Johnson said the hope is to let people know that the Dream Center is still there to serve the community and its needs.
"It's not just a spur," Johnson said.
There are local organizations such as the Bradenton CCRA that have been working behind the scenes and continue to help in any way they can, he added.
Bridget Cox brought her three children to Saturday's events despite concerns about crime.
"That scares me; anything can happen at any time, children can be playing basketball like here," Cox said. "No matter what happens as far as crime, I will continue to allow my children to come here. Crime isn't isolated, it can happen anywhere."
Cox said she has noticed positive changes in the community.
"I do now see more police cars in the neighborhood, and usually if somebody is going to be doing anything negative or cause trouble it will deter them," Cox said. "I think that's improvement for this neighborhood."
Regardless of some of the crime she has heard goes on in and around her community, Cox said she still has high hopes.
"I hope the community can continue to grow prosperous and the children can feel safe," Cox said. "It's nice, it's family oriented, all the children play together and go to school together."
With the arrests and indictment announced Thursday, Cox said she does feel like her children are safer now.
"I'm glad these people, if they are the ones responsible, that they are off the street," Cox said. "I know the families of the individuals who were the victims, I'm sure they are relieved."
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her @JDeLeon1012.