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Community forms a united front to combat Black violence

A community member voiced his opinions at an emergency meeting at Hamilton United Methodist Church in South Los Angeles to st
A community member voiced his opinions at an emergency meeting at Hamilton United Methodist Church in South Los Angeles to stop the violence within the Black community. Photo by Jason […]

Police brutality has been one of the hot-button issues that has captured the nation’s attention over the past year, and has been heavily covered by television, radio, newspaper, and internet media outlets.

As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to sweep the nation shedding light on police brutality, many opponents of the movement have begun to fire back with a singular question: What about Black-on-Black crime? They have questioned why Black people have put so much energy into fighting police brutality, but not violence in Black communities.

Well recently, a few hundred people, mostly Black, packed the Hamilton United Methodist Church in South Los Angeles for an emergency meeting to discuss the recent surge in street violence in the Black communities of the city.

The standing-room only crowd of local residents, activists, community service workers, gang prevention and intervetion specialists, LAPD officers and local politicians formed a united front to offer a clear message that the violence needs to stop.

This emergency meeting was hosted Sunday by Los Angeles City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson in partnership with Councilmember Curren Price. Rep. Karen Bass was also on hand as people took to the microphone to voice their anger and concern over the violence that is leaving young Black people dead in the streets, mostly at the hands of other Black youth.

Are Black people caught up in the police brutality issue while ignoring Black-on-Black crime? Based on the meeting, that does not appear to be the case, even though what the media portrays would say otherwise.

Street violence within the Black community has been addressed for decades through community-based gang prevention and intervention programs.

The prevention component consists of after- school tutoring, mentoring, sports, and other programs that are designed to occupy children’s time so that they do not turn to gangs as a surrogate family.

Gang intervention organizations intervene when conflicts between gangs occur. They work with individuals who chose to participate in the gang culture, and they help mend conflicts among people who are already engaged in gang activity.

Many people in the Black community take on the task of combating Black-on-Black crime on a daily basis, but the media chooses to highlight juicier stories, such as the police brutality issue, which in large part is presented as a White vs. Black issue. A race issue garners more interest from the general public, and drives television ratings. Observers often note that when the media does cover an event in the Black community, it is typically something negative.

“What’s tricky is, over time, a gang interventionist prevents a shooting, but you don’t hear about it,” Harris-Dawson said.“You only hear about the shootings that did happen.”

There are many positive stories in the Black community, but those stories typically do not make the airwaves and are often replaced in favor of articles that revolve around violence. The perception of Black America has been shaped by the media to some degree with the attention that has been put on Black crime, even though there is a criminal element in every race.

“White people kill White people more than Black people kill Black people,” said community activist Aqeela Sherrills, principle partner of the Reverence Project.

According to an FBI crime report in 2010, White people, who represent the largest racial group in the United States, led all other racial groups in arrests for murder, aggravated assault, forcible rape, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and many other crimes. But the perception in this nation is that there is a criminal epidemic that exist in the Black race that is not present in other races.

Black-on-Black crime is an issue just like White-on-White crime is, because a White person is just as likely to be murdered by another White person as a Black person is by another Black person. That is true for all races in this nation.

While opponents of the Black Lives Matters movement have questioned what Black people are doing about Black-on-Black crime, gang interventionists have taken on the tireless task of making the community safer for its residents.

“We’re doing something every single day to prevent Black-on-Black killings and Black-on-Black crime,” Sherrills said. “The thing is that the system is not doing enough.”

Sherrills is referring to the lack of funding for community-based organizations.

“White folks in this country get a lot more access to healing technologies and recovery services,” Sherrills said. “Where as Black folks are only eight percent of the population of the state of California, we lead in every single category of victims of violent crime in the state.  Black people, we are the poster children for crime victims and crime survivors in this country. But we don’t get our fair share of resources and support services.

“What we get is jail. What we get is more law enforcement. That’s what the system’s solution has been for Black folks,” said Sherills.

He points out that 70 percent of public safety dollars are being consumed by law enforcement.

“Every time there is violence, the solution is more police,” Sherrills said. “We haven’t even looked at the root cause of why violence is spiking. Our tax dollars are locked up by law enforcement. If gang intervention and prevention was properly funded, there would be no spike in violence in the city. They would be able to create jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for a lot of young Black and Latinos who are living in the neighborhoods. It would strengthen organizations so that they would have greater capacity to hire and train the next generation of interventionist.”

This is where politicians such as Harris-Dawson, Bass, and Price come into play.  They are able to secure the funds needed for the community service organizations to be able to function properly. Harris-Dawson said that  “funding is absolutely a problem.”

“We want to make sure that the community has access to the resources to have their basic needs met,” he explained. “That they are given the services, whether that is mental health, counseling, or mentoring. What will make the difference is when we increase the person to person contact with young people in the community, and with people that are at risk or on the edge of gang life.”

Education is one of several tools that Harris-Dawson is using to combat gangs.

“We know that when folks stay in school all the way through high school, they are unlikely to get involved with this kind of activity,” Harris-Dawson said.

The emergency meeting at Hamilton United Methodist Church can be viewed as an event to bring the community together to fight Black-on-Black crime.

“What was very historic was certain gang interventionists working side-by-side with police officers, saying that these guys can be our partners in building a better community,” Harris-Dawson said.

Sherrills is optimistic that this event will bring upon action within the community.

“I think the fact that Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Karen Bass and Curren Price organized it, to me that’s huge,” Sherrills said. “Because you have the federal, state, and city government all at the table at the same time. I think that collectively they can figure out how to make sure that money gets down to the public.”

Street Cleaners

By William Covington

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche

At one time, James Dunn (aka “Godfather”) was a gang member and considered a shot caller more concerned with eliminating his rivals. Today, his focus is on saving lives and preventing inner city violence as a member of GYRD (Gang Reduction and Youth Development). Dunn is clean cut and dresses in stylish clothing often favored by older Black men. At our meeting, he wore a pair of black biscuit loafers and described the increasingly volatile gang culture in South Los Angeles. He spoke passionately about his mission and talked with the eloquence of a seasoned college professor.

The only sign of his possible association with gangs was his physically imposing presence. Dunn’s gangbanging came to an end in 1992, when he got involved in the gang truce immediately following the Rodney King civil unrest. He has been involved in de-escalating gang violence ever since.

Dunn uses the term “dramatization” to explain why he thinks there has been a spike in the number of homicides reported throughout South Los Angeles in recent months. In Dunn’s observation, contemporary gang members are using social media to issue challenges and broadcast their appetite for violence. Gang specialists refer to this as social media gang banging.

Social Media Gang Banging is the major cause of the August spike, contends Dunn. Gang members are posting disrespectful messages and photos directed towards rival gangs, leading to violence.

To do this, many gang members look at the posts and paying attention to the background of the photo, which often show geographical landmarks and the time when the photo was posted. By analyzing both location and time, rival gang members are able to intercept individuals who posted the message and gun them down. Some guys are so bold they will post their locations and challenge rivals to come get them. This often leads to their own execution.

Youngsters (15-25 year old gang members), are often referred to by GRYD members as the “Junior KKK.” This nickname is used because they are the age group heavily involved in drive-bys. These youngsters congratulate each other, whenever their actions attract media attention. These actions raise the public’s awareness of gang violence. However, the media’s penchant for sensationalism elevates the status of these crimes, which in turn, boosts the egos of those involved. Dunn calls this practice, “glorifying the incident.”

In many cases, when one gang does harm to another, it causes the other to seek revenge by way of violence. Retaliatory violence accounts for a substantial portion of killings within gang-infested neighborhoods, contends Dunn.

When these stories reach the public, GRYD members like Dunn act quickly to eliminate conflict.

A basic reaction to such media reports describing a recent drive-by is that youngsters from the rival gang who suffered a fatality, may do a retaliatory drive-by. This response is a form of retribution.

Dunn said in order to gird themselves to do the violence the young gang members will take drugs to eliminate any sense of remorse they might experience.

They will drink a cough syrup mixture, smoke weed, pcp, or take molly (MDMA).

Dunn believes substance abuse accompanied with generational family gang association impacts youngsters. Black families may have parents and grandparents affiliated with a gang, a social dynamic that used to be exclusive to Hispanic families.

But now Black youngsters who are aware of a family gang legacy will try to follow in their elder’s footsteps, wanting to make a name for themselves.

GRYD attempts to reach out to older members of a particular gang through dialogue, in hopes that the older OGs (original gangsters) can control the younger gang members through reactive and proactive measures.

“The ultimate proactive plan consists of reaching out and attempting to get a commitment of peace through dialogue with older members (OGs),” Dunn explained. “We are involved in rumor control, which consists of conducting meetings and providing information to take back to the community. One example was the recent 100-days incident that got out of hand, as a result of Facebook postings. It was originally posted by a gang member and we were able to intervene and neutralize the incident.”

Dunn believes GYRD’s reactive plan can be dangerous because of unknown factors such as grudge’s and long memories. The first step is to utilize your familiarity with that gang’s structure and who the OGs or shot callers are. These are the individuals who can de-escalate an disagreement or issue before it becomes violent.

“We try and get rid of the Band-Aid method (often) used to curtail gang activity,”said Dunn.

“You must have an unblemished level of trust and creditability, and most importantly, you must be familiar with gang members who are hot heads and make sure they are not involved in any part of a peace meeting.

“The next step is to sit down in a meeting with representatives from both gangs and get a dialogue going. Once they look across the table and agree to some stuff, you can back off and allow them to work things out. It is very important to reinject yourself towards the end of the meeting and have them all agree to pick up the phone and call before they pick up a guns and go to war.”

“Once the meeting is over, you pray that everything goes right. Meetings are absent of media, and peace officers. Most results are only known by gang members and GRYD staff.”

In reference to the re-emergence of a major gang truce in the future, Dunn believes that the city will have a second chance because of the natural order of reoccurrence: everything is a cycle, just as the spike in violence with our people.

“I hope if I am around we have an agenda, a plan of action to create policy, and no sabotage from outside agencies,” he expressed.

Dunn also believes GYRD will be more proactive with legislation like Prop. 47 which will reduce prison population by reclassifing non violent, non serious offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Savings from the population reduction will be passed on to gang intervention and other social programs. The bill passed in November 2014.

Another proactive program that is working to cut down on the violence is “Summer Night Lights,” a violence-reduction initiative run by the Mayor’s office and GRYD, that keeps recreation centers and parks open between 7-11 p.m. throughout the summer months. The goal is keeping at-risk youth constructively engaged. In fact, many gang members are employed by summer night lights. But that can have a down side.

Dunn complains that some of the staff hired by the Mayor’s office are still active gang members and sometimes cause problems at certain parks. He believes there are problems sometimes with guys who are straddling the fence when it comes to gang intervention. “Some programs have structure and the community will benefit. But it depends on what park you are from and who’s running that program,” Dunn explained.

GYRD contractor Tony Kelly believes in being very candid with youngsters. He has been told by officials that gangs prevent city revenue and impacts tourism. He said business leaders will eventually force politicians to act.

Kelly informs youngsters that gangs are chasing away revenue. For example, he believes the recent escalation of violence isn’t good PR for the city and could influence the NFL’s decision to move a team to Los Angeles. Local officials want LA to become a 24-hour entertainment city.

“We inform gang members that the city government will not allow their actions to impact plans for this city, and they can cease the violence or the Los Angeles Police Department will clean up the streets with paramilitary action utilizing divisions like Metro or CRASH,” Kelly explained.

He added that Metro and other agencies disregard any work (GYRD) has accomplished. “They come in with a mission to eliminate all gang activity by any means possible. They roll in with high-end weaponry and will, in essence, harass everyone whether you are a gang member or not.”

Black on Black violence is
legacy of racism, slavery

By Manny Otiko

ow contributor

According to Jonathan Farley, Ph.D., a math professor and graduate of Harvard and Oxford, a complex combination of factors has created a situation where there is a disregard for human life in the Black community.

He believes several generations of single-parent families have helped create Black boys who were essentially raised by women and have major discipline and impulse control problems. According to the Journal of Applied Economics, fathers play a significant role in the upbringing of boys. J.Q. Wilson, orginator of the “broken window” law enforcement strategy wrote, “compared to children who are raised by their biological father and mother, those raised by mothers, Black or White, who have never married are more likely to be poor, to acquire less schooling, to be expelled or suspended from school, to experience emotional or behavioral problems, to display antisocial behavior, to have trouble getting along with their peers, and to start their own single-parent families. These unhappy outcomes afflict both girls and boys, but they have a more adverse effect on boys.”

Farley also added that in recent years we have seen the rise of the allure of “thug culture.” In an article in Essence, titled “Players and Professors: A Nice Guy Steps Up,” he explained why even educated, professional Black women prefer to date thugs over professional Black men. One woman interviewed said Black women want a strong protector and don’t see professional Black men as “strong.”

Ganz Ferrance, Ph.D., is a registered psychologist who used to work with at-risk youths in Chicago. In his work, he has witnessed some of the attitudes prevalent among people living in urban, predominantly Black neighborhoods. He said many of the young people he worked with were second- or third-generation gang members, so that was the only life they knew.

Ferrrance said that generations of Black men removed from the home, either by violence or the War on Drugs, has created a situation where young boys feel they need to be hyper masculine. This includes overt displays of masculinity to prove themselves, fighting, displaying guns and having lots of children. The lack of males in the community means there is no “dampening force” for teenage male aggression, he said. The presence of older males in a group tends to stop the younger ones from getting out of control.

However, the absence of Black males from homes has been going on for centuries in America. During slavery, Black males were often transferred to different plantations and were not present in the home. Daniel Moynihan tried to raise the alarm about the absence of Black fathers during the 1960s, but his fears were dismissed. When the Moynihan report was published in 1965, the out-of-wedlock birth rate was 25 percent; now almost 70 percent of Black children are born into single-parent homes. Women raising children alone has become the norm, not the exception.

Ferrance said there are a host of problems in inner city communities—lack of jobs, harsh policing, drugs, gang violence, etc.. He compared it to a pressure cooker. People “tend to lash out at the people around you,” Ferrance said.

Like Ferrance, Bernard Moitt, Ph.D., a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who specializes in the history and literature of Africa and the African Diaspora, says many of the root causes of today’s situation can be traced to slavery.

Moitt said during that period, slave status was determined by the mother.

“The status of the father was immaterial,” he said. “He had no paternal rights. From the beginning, the Black man’s position was weak.”

Fast forward to today, and you have Black communities still besieged by problems such as poor schools, lack of access to healthcare and an unemployment rate twice that of the national rate. It’s a recipe for disaster, say researchers.

Moitt also said that poor, disenfranchised, frustrated people tend to turn their anger on each other.