The sign on the door of Little World, a convenience store on the 4600 block of Malcolm X Boulevard, reads "no Guns." It's a plea from the owner to the neighborhood, which has been wracked with violence.
The store was the backdrop of a shooting at 1am on Saturday morning. Dallas police say that two bystanders sitting in separate cars "were struck by gunfire as two groups of suspects engaged each other with guns." Neither injury was life threatening, but one underwent surgery that night. "There is no suspect information at this time," according to police.
Shootings in South Dallas - which activists say are gang-related - are becoming too common. Last week another person was killed and two others injured, blocks away from the store.
The people in the area are wary when asked about the violence in their neighborhood. Despite the public shootout this weekend, no suspects have been identified. Police have complained that witnesses seldom come forward after gang and drug related homicides. Showing the similar reticence, store owners and patrons on Malcolm X Boulevard declined to speak about crime in their neighborhood to the Observer.
Pastor Omar Jahwar, though, will not be silent. He lived the life in Dallas and, as a self-proclaimed reformed gangster, he started a group called the Urban Specialists. This weekend the group organized a march in response to what they call “an increase in senseless violence.”
The Urban Specialists’ goal is to “stamp out those things that are the reason for violence” including the helpless feeling they say leads to substance abuse and gang membership. The group has been around for about 20 years, but 2017 has witnessed an uptick in interest from volunteers as violence continues to plague parts of Dallas.
The organization claims more than 400 people attended Saturday's march, which Jahwar says reflects frustration in South Dallas. “There have not been adequate responses to say ‘what do we do when this happens?’” he says.
There's a poster hung on the wall of the Urban Specialists’ headquarters that chronicles each of the city's murders in the past six months. Jahwar says interest in volunteering picked up after March 19, when a spray of gunfire injured two teens at Wheatley Park. One of the victims there was shot in the face.
Using the outrage from these shootings, Jahwar and other activists are hoping to galvanize the neighborhood to not accept 2017's spate of violence as normal.
“Next year when you talk to me, there’ll be a major difference in the area,” said Jahwar. “Some people may not get the message yet, but the message is getting out there.”