Carl Thornton has lived in Lexington for more than 40 years.
He's passionate about the community and has a vested interest in seeing it thrive. That's why Thornton, a retired sanitation worker who now spends his time laying mulch at Douglass Park and mentoring youngsters, asked Lexington police to put a choke hold on crime to help citizens who are at risk.
"My main purpose is saving some of these young men and women. All of them are not thugs," he said. "But the crime that we face today is only going to get worse. ... It's taking over this community."
Thornton, who gave an impassioned speech Thursday night during a town hall at Winburn Middle School hosted by Lexington's NAACP branch, focused on concerns regarding public safety, employment and protecting youths. The meeting, scheduled weeks ago, comes on the heels of public outcry and a national discussion about police brutality after the death of a Baltimore man who was critically injured while in police custody.
Willie Saunders, president of the NAACP branch, said the meeting was to allow an open and honest conversation between citizens and community officials to discuss problems plaguing the city.
"We cannot wait. We cannot wait until one of us is laying in the street before we start talking," Saunders said while standing in front of about 70 people. "We're setting the groundwork. We're laying the foundation. ... We're going to do more than talk. It doesn't stop here."
Thursday's meeting was the first of four planned gatherings throughout the city, Saunders said.
Saunders noted the city had 18 homicides last year and six in the first four months of 2015.
"We need smart strategies, intelligent solutions that will restore trust and respect between community and law enforcement, especially communities of color," he said. A call for federal dollars was made to invest in police training, including the use of body cameras, Saunders added.
Lexington police Chief Mark Barnard spent much of the meeting responding to questions about police tactics, training, and national trends, and explaining innovative ways to make the community and the lives of citizens much better.
Barnard, who recently worked with Jubilee Jobs, a program that offers help to people who want jobs but are held back by problems including homelessness or a criminal record, touted the necessity of re-entry programs that help felons. He also acknowledged the need to improve the department's diversity numbers. He suggested that law enforcement nationally is in a "crisis stage" after a series of police shootings involving unarmed men and women.
"We live in a great city surrounded by beautiful gardens," Barnard said. "That's not saying we don't have our issues. That's not saying we don't have to work on those issues. But when people ask me, 'How are you addressing crime? What are you doing with it?' We have strategies. We have plans that include all of us. They include your neighbors. ... And they include partners and support with us working together."