By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
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These days, the Youth Services Office keeps busy. It serves as a liaison between community youth efforts and as a referral system for organizations and residents. It runs dozens of job-training, recreational trips, and after-school activities. Murkledove's new gig with the Send-a-Kid-to-Camp program is under the auspice of Youth Services. It's a not a direct, in-the-trenches approach; the city leaves that to the police.
What the Youth Services program excels at is high-profile public relations. The centerpiece of the project is the Youth Commission, composed of 15 council-appointed teens who supposedly advise the city on youth matters. Then there's the Teen Leadership Council, a group of 20 more students that "provides support for the Youth Commission."
When asked what the Youth Services program is up to currently, coordinator Mavis Lloyd highlighted a national Youth Crimes Prevention convention in April, and an upcoming "March Against Violence." None of it is the sort of one-on-one, street-level counseling Big Murk provides.
"The police were and are better-equipped to deal with this. There's so much expertise required," Mendez says. "Now, they have got counselors [in their anti-gang unit.] What you need in a situation like this is caseworkers."
The anti-gang squad Mendez refers to is made up of two civilian caseworkers, 10 field enforcement officers, plus a handful of brass and support technicians. The police caseworkers admit their role is mainly a referral system to route kids toward local private and nonprofit youth programs.
If a patrol officer or parent calls seeking help with a problematic child, the DPD caseworkers open their big book of private agencies and make a referral. "We get involved after the fact," says Carol Shaw, one of the two DPD gang caseworkers. Those agencies are found at safety fairs and conventions, as well as City Hall networking. There's a plethora of them out there, but many are not gang-specific because the real grant money these days can't be picked up fighting gangs.
"They're looking at grants that meet the need of the community, and most are focused on drugs," Shaw says. "It's what the government gives them money to do."
The DPD also has followed the trend away from thwarting gangs themselves. "There are a lot of programs based on drug abuse. Not a lot of them deal with gangs specifically," she says. "There are sections or parts of them that focus a little on gangs, like an hour or 30 minutes to talk about gang prevention."
In a culture that sees police as the enemy, going or being shunted to the police for help can be awkward. Getting kids' confidence is of paramount importance because they must want to seek help themselves, and the police are not high on their list of helpful folks.
"The very first thing I do is tell kids I'm not with the police," Murkledove says.
Lampkin met Murkledove in 1998, while the city worker was glad-handing students in the halls of Madison High. "You know how colleges only pick up athletes with height and speed? He tells me that it doesn't matter, that if I have my brain and my speed and keep my head together I'll succeed," he says. "He was like me, small and fast."
Murkledove's not fast enough to dodge the overhaul of his program and his transfer from South Dallas. That does not sit well with many at the MLK Center, including the kids he's helped.
"After so many years, and with so many kids he done motivated, they're just gonna tell him to up and leave? It makes no sense," says Mattie Davis. "I thank God and him for motivating me. He told me things that stuck with me and never let go."
Murkledove's still in the kid game, and those who know him know that his passion for South Dallas isn't going to allow him to keep away. Just as he defines an era of South Dallas, that neighborhood also defines him. It's clear he plans to use his stature--literally and figuratively--to keep an eye on his turf.
He harbors the disappointment of a reassigned employee, and a lot of that emotion is aimed at Mendez. "He lied to me a lot, and the trust factor went out the window," he says. "I had no idea the program would be shut down...If there was going to be a reorganization and I wasn't involved, it would be a slap in the face."
Now, Murk still holds a city job working with kids, but his mind is fixed on doing things his way in South Dallas, office or no office. He's lobbying for an expansion of the Send-a-Kid-to-Camp program to a year-round, weekday program that smells suspiciously like some of the activities that died with his deceased program. The narrow focus of his new gig, sending a handful of kids to summer camp, irks him, and he likely won't sit still for long. The struggle for the soul of South Dallas is too personal.
"I'm supposed to be catching the ones who fell from the system," he says. "You can't just get kids involved and then leave that void, especially now that they're engaged. We can't close the door on them."