A Baylor University professor noted for his studies on the role of religion in the social behavior of young people likes the way Omaha officials and community organizers are battling juvenile crime.
Byron Johnson began a two-day visit to the city on Sunday when he appeared on a panel at Covenant Presbyterian Church to discuss “Why Faith Matters, and How It Could Matter More.”
Johnson briefly touched on his latest book, “More God, Less Crime,” and said he will go into greater depth on the topic during a daylong conference today starting at 9 a.m. at Salem Baptist Church, 3131 Lake St.
“I’m trying to demonstrate through research what (Omaha) already knows to be true,” Johnson said. “This conference is going to expose how and why faith matters.”
Johnson lauded Omaha 360 and its director, Willie Barney, who also was on Sunday’s panel. Omaha 360 is a coalition of organizations focused on ending gun and gang violence and developing thriving, revitalized neighborhoods.
Johnson said he wished he had known about Omaha 360’s efforts 2½ years ago, “because I would’ve written a chapter in my book about you.”
Omaha 360 is a blueprint for other cities to follow, he said later.
“Omaha 360 is the exact idea for others to follow,” Johnson said. “It’s a holistic approach, an integrated effort that deals with the many problems we have for juvenile crime.”
Johnson borrowed from the 1960s advertising jingle for Brylcreem, a hair-styling product, when describing how religious and secular organizations can work together. “A little dab of God will do you” when cities are searching for ways to reduce crime, he said.
“That’s what Omaha 360 has done by mixing a dab of this and a dab of that. I’m really hopeful that Omaha 360 could become a model, because they’re doing some very good things.”
Johnson said his research in prisons shows that people who want to break out of the cycle of crime and punishment need help in a variety of areas. Offenders often need everyday skills such as the ability to balance a checkbook and parent properly if they want to successfully re-enter society, he said.
Barney said even though he’s not a minister, he felt a calling to reduce juvenile crime eight years ago during a pawnshop robbery in Benson that resulted in the death of a young suspect. Prayer walks, closer cooperation with police and more employment opportunities have reduced violence by 50 percent in some neighborhoods, he said.
“It’s great to have the pastors and faith leaders engaged, and it’s great to have the government and elected officials engaged, but we’ve seen the greatest results when people (take) some personal responsibility,” Barney said. “We believe the greatness of Omaha can be extended to every single ZIP code, and that’s the responsibility that God has given us.”
Barney said Omaha 360 aims to provide employment, housing, support services and education opportunities to make tangible differences in the community.
Johnson nodded as Barney spoke.
“I look forward to getting to know Willie,” he said. “I think you’re kind of creating a laboratory here that we should study.”
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