TOLEDO, Ohio — Malik Smith was once a gangster on Toledo's streets, but that was a lifetime ago. He's since converted to Islam and today serves as a community advocate for the Englewood neighborhood, trying to push peace and community.
But Smith still keeps tabs on gang culture across the city, and says it's only gotten worse.
"When I was younger, claiming what I was claiming, we was fighting, fighting and that's it. They pull up shooting you, and like I said, they so young you wouldn't know they about to come shoot you," Smith said.
Smith said these new gang members don't have the same codes he and others of his time had. He said they're now more likely than ever to shoot people randomly.
"I'm scared, to be honest. I be scared at stop signs, stop lights. A car pulling next to me with tint, I'll run the red light, I'll take that ticket. And that's how bad it's got," Smith said.
Smith said the hearts and minds of the community need to be changed to pull kids out of this violent culture. But he said programs like the city's violence interrupter program--which involves former criminals talking to kids--are too disconnected from the neighborhood to make an impact.
"They hire violence interrupters that don't know the streets, or don't know the kids in the streets. Why not hire the people in the streets and that's in the streets? Well, not technically 'in the streets', you feel me, but got one foot in trying to help the streets, ya know?"
Smith said he would be the perfect candidate for this, as he often breaks up fights between kids on his own time. He even recommended himself for the job to the mayor, but said he was rejected.
He questions the priorities of leaders.
"Like, y'all having press conferences about dirt bikes and they doing donuts in the middle of the street. Have a press conference about these ten plus murders in the last 60 days or so."
Smith said he'll keep throwing BBQs and talking to local kids to help them walk a different path on his own time. But he worries it might be time to start saving the next generation instead of recovering the current one. He says he's tried having heart to hearts with some of the kids pulling the trigger, and it's in one ear and out the other.
WTOL 11 reached out to the mayor's office to confirm Smith's story that he applied to be a violence interrupter. We've received no word at this time.