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The face of six month old Jonylah Watkins, shot in Chicago March 11, 2013. Died March 12.

Urban communities are fighting back against violence
Commentary by Black Kos Editor Denise Oliver Velez

It is very hard to look at the faces of babies who are murdered. It hurts when we read about, or know anyone killed violently, but somehow it hurts even more when we see a child who barely had a chance to live taken away by a bullet.

Jonylah Watkins was shot sitting in her dad's lap, when he was parked in a mini van in the Woodlawn section of Chicago. Her father, Jonathan Watkins, shot multiple times, survived. Though initial news reports were garbled, and contained misinformation, the end result is the same.  Another child is dead.

Over 1,000 mourners attended her funeral in Chicago.
Her grandmother, Mary Young gave a eulogy addressing her neighbors and fellow citizens

"My neighbors of Chicago, what have thou done?" Young said, standing at a podium overlooking her granddaughter's tiny casket. "You brought in the darkness, removed the sun. It's now obvious the time has come when killing one another will no longer be tolerated by anyone."
I know the conversation nationally is about gun-control and gun violence, and stopping the killing via legislation.  

Today, I want to take a look at efforts being made in urban communities to address the problems from the inside out.

There are no magical short term solutions. There is no one factor that can cure the ills facing the poor who are locked into inner city situations. The contributing variables are a complex mixture of systemic racism, high unemployment, de-facto segregation in housing and education, the so-called war on drugs and prison pipeline contributing to street gang activity...the list is long, and the fix is going to take even longer.

I think often of something said by Eldridge Cleaver, "You are either part of the solution or part of the problem."  Too often we fail to appreciate and support local efforts to deal with the problems that beset them.

Imho, contrary to the rhetoric spouted by police honchos like Bill Bratton, and some big city mayors like Michael Bloomberg, the solution is not locking more people up, and stop and frisk programs harassing young men of color on the streets.

Efforts that seem to show far better short term results are those that combine a mixture of community policing and community member activism.  

One such effort, that is being implemented in multiple urban communities, began in Chicago, and is documented in the award winning documentary film "The Interrupters".


The Interrupters tells the moving and surprising stories of three Violence Interrupters who try to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they once employed. From acclaimed director Steve James and bestselling author Alex Kotlowitz, this film is an unusually intimate journey into the stubborn persistence of violence in our cities. Shot over the course of a year out of Kartemquin Films, The Interrupters captures a period in Chicago when it became a national symbol for the violence in our cities. During that period, the city was besieged by high-profile incidents, most notably the brutal beating of Derrion Albert, a Chicago High School student, whose death was caught on videotape.

The film’s main subjects work for an innovative organization, CeaseFire. It was founded by an epidemiologist, Gary Slutkin, who believes that the spread of violence mimics the spread of infectious diseases, and so the treatment should be similar: go after the most infected, and stop the infection at its source. One of the cornerstones of the organization is the “Violence Interrupters” program, created by Tio Hardiman, who heads the program. The Interrupters — who have credibility on the streets because of their own personal histories — intervene in conflicts before they explode into violence.

In The Interrupters, Ameena Matthews, whose father is Jeff Fort, one of the city’s most notorious gang leaders, was herself a drug ring enforcer. But having children and finding solace in her Muslim faith pulled her off the streets and grounded her. In the wake of Derrion Albert’s death, Ameena becomes a close confidante to his mother, and helps her through her grieving. Ameena, who is known among her colleagues for her fearlessness, befriends a feisty teenaged girl who reminds her of herself at that age. The film follows that friendship over the course of many months, as Ameena tries to nudge the troubled girl in the right direction. Cobe Williams, scarred by his father’s murder, was in and out of prison, until he had had enough. His family – particularly a young son – helped him find his footing. Cobe disarms others with his humor and his general good nature. His most challenging moment comes when he has to confront a man so bent on revenge that Cobe has to pat him down to make sure he’s put away his gun. Like Ameena, he gets deeply involved in the lives of those he encounters, including a teenaged boy just out of prison and a young man from his old neighborhood who’s squatting in a foreclosed home.

Eddie Bocanegra is haunted by a murder he committed when he was seventeen. His CeaseFire work is a part of his repentance for what he did. Eddie is most deeply disturbed by the aftereffects of the violence on children, and so he spends much of his time working with younger kids in an effort to both keep them off the streets and to get support to those who need it – including a 16-year-old girl whose brother died in her arms. Soulful and empathic, Eddie, who learned to paint in prison, teaches art to children, trying to warn them of the debilitating trauma experienced by those touched by the violence.

Ameena Matthews photo AmeenaMatthews_zps6961cca5.jpg

(photo of  violence interrupter, Ameena Matthews)

The organization documented in the film is CeaseFire, now known as Cure Violence.

The Cure Violence initiative was founded in 1995 by Dr. Gary Slutkin, an American epidemiologist who maintains that violence should be treated like an epidemic and can be prevented by stopping the behavior at its source. We believe in this perspective, we have put it to use and we have seen it work wonders in our communities.

In 2000, Cure Violence launched in West Garfield Park, one of the most violent communities in Chicago, and was quick to produce results reducing shootings by 67% in its first year. Since then, our results have been replicated more than 18 times in Chicago and throughout the world.

Dr. Slutkin talks about the "violence as disease" model, and the organizations efforts.


Will this one approach be enough to stop the violence and its underlying causes?  No.
People in poor communities don't have the political power to change the system.

Will it save lives?  

Yes.

That for me is enough to say - right on.  Show them some support.

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                  News by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor

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Straight Up: Calling out black-on-black crime diverts attention from taking on the powerful gun lobby. The Root: Time to Remove Race From Gun Debate.
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Yet, well before the Newtown massacre, black communities and activists were talking about the urgent need for action on the problem of gun violence. As a result, following the natural spasm of media attention on Newtown, you could quickly hear the refrain from the black communities, "But what about Chicago? What about the steady gun violence and death of young innocents in the ghetto?" The sad poignancy of that refrain was underscored by the senseless gun murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who performed at President Obama's second inaugural just days earlier. The circumstance prompted some black activists to circulate a petition, signed by tens of thousands, calling for Obama to speak out on gun violence in Chicago.

And here is the rub: We are all rightly mortified and outraged by the Newtown gun killings, but a Newtown-scale death toll occurs roughly every four months on the South side of Chicago while hardly seeming to command special attention, much less rank as a major consideration in the case for gun control. Gun deaths in the ghetto, even of young teenagers, have to a disturbing degree been largely normalized. This is the real problem of race and gun crime. 

Gun deaths in the ghetto can and do still make the news, particularly when very young children die in gunfire or when the gun crime has salacious qualities. But I do not discern the same kind of public or political response. The collective sense of outrage and shock that followed events in Aurora or Newtown seems notably absent following gun deaths in the ghetto. Embedded in that normalization is an implicit assignment of differential blame: It's their own fault in the ghetto, isn't it? After all, they don't have strong family structures in those communities, and it is largely black-on-black crime anyway, is it not?

Would anyone think they had said something meaningful by referring to the Columbine, Colo., gun shootings in 1999 as "white-on-white crime"? No, of course not. Yet we can, apparently, be challenged to have a serious discussion about race and gun violence as a matter of "black-on-black crime." Only in a culture where blackness marks certain bodies and communities as signaling a not-quite-complete claim on full citizenship and common humanity could that become the framing of how we need to approach the problem of gun violence.



                               Scott Olson/Getty Images

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The mentality that begat "stop and frisk" in New York City, is commonplace throughout the USA. The Times-Picayune New Orleans curfew data: 93 percent of curfew arrestees are black.
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New Orleans officials this week released data that show almost 93 percent of the 7,748 children stopped for curfew violations in the city between 2009 and 2012 were African-American. The release came a few days after New Orleans police acknowledged they had misspoken in October when they told NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune that they did not track the demographics of curfew violators.

The new data also indicate that African-American boys who are stopped for curfew violations are more likely to be transported to the Orleans Parish Curfew Center, as opposed to being released on the scene. Critics of NOPD contend the numbers validate their concerns that the department has been engaging in racial profiling with some of its practices, curfew enforcement being one of them.

"(The information) is not inconsistent with what past data (have) been regarding curfew arrests and not inconsistent with some of the concerns of the Department of Justice around policing practices that were profiling communities of color," said Dana Kaplan, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana.

Danatus King, head of the local NAACP and an increasingly vocal critic of the NOPD, added that the numbers behind curfew enforcement in New Orleans are especially worrisome to him in the wake of a recent directive from a police lieutenant that called on cops to stop people on bicycles in "the hood."

"It's indicative of a policy of racial profiling," King said.




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The unlucky continent finally seems to be on a real path to growth, but is democracy essential to sustain Africa’s rise? Foreign Policy Magazine: The African Century.
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First of all, is the boom even real? Is Africa itself hopeful, or just little bits of it? Todd Moss, head of the Emerging Africa Project at the Center for Global Development, says that he views the changes in Africa as "big and important and historically different from the past," but he adds that "the dominant trend is divergence among countries." For every Ghana or Ethiopia that is making durable progress, there is a Chad that is "stuck in the past and free-riding on the commodities boom." Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is somewhere in the middle, its banking sector set to dominate the continent while the mighty torrent of oil money corrupts politics and barely reaches the poor.

But there's no question about what distinguishes the success stories from the failures -- governance. Moss points out that about half of African contrives have improved on indicators of good governance, and half haven't. Oliver August, author of the Economist report (yes, the famously anonymous "newspaper" now seems to award bylines for its most ambitious efforts), noted that he traveled 15,800 miles over Africa's roads without once being asked for a bribe.

I was astonished at the description of West Africa, a region I've visited three times over the last decade and viewed as a sinkhole of ethnic violence, big-man government, and drug money corruption. In Senegal, August notes, the apparently ageless President Abdoulaye Wade was ridiculed when he tried to stand for a third term despite a constitutional prohibition; in Guinea, a virtual narco-state five years ago, a civilian leader has put the generals in their place; Sierra Leone is at peace; and Ivory Coast is coming back to life after a civil war. On the other hand, Mali, which in 2007 hosted the biennial meeting of the Community of Democracies, is now a barely governed mess.

So good governance is the key. Is that news? To some people, yes. In The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs argued that "Africa's governance is poor because Africa is poor" -- not the other way around. The real reason Africa was poor was the unlucky accident of geography -- bad soil, disease, lack of access to ports and navigable rivers -- and the self-perpetuating nature of poverty. The only solution was thus to kick-start development with foreign aid. Sachs described poor countries as desperately sick patients who needed the care of Western donors, and lamented that the practice of "clinical economics" had not reached the subtlety of clinical medicine. Once it did, governance would take care of itself.

Foreign aid has clearly played an important role in reducing infant and maternal mortality in Africa, decreasing the incidence of malaria and AIDS, and raising the fraction of children who attend school -- all immensely important advances. But it is almost certainly not responsible for economic growth, as the economist William Easterly showed in his polemic, White Man's Burden.



                                     Foreign Policy Magazine

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There will never be another Nelson Mandela, but maybe that’s just what South Africa needs to save itself from ruin. Foreign Policy Magazine: After Mandela.
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There's also a striking gulf between the local and international media in their reports on Mandela's health. The foreign press are more beatific -- they exhaust transcendental superlatives in attempting to describe the elderly statesman -- but also more ruthless and fatalistic. They polish the halo, or they rehearse the deathbed scene, but, for the most part, they don't seem terribly interested in any middle ground. Each time Mandela takes ill, they wonder if this hospital stay will be the hospital stay, if the unthinkable is about to happen, if the big story is here.

South African reporters are generally shrewder and tougher, indifferent to hyperbole and reflexively critical of the party line. They do a better job of portraying Mandela as an actual human being. But they have also been disciplined into deference by a government that curbs the media, threatens its freedoms, and queries its patriotism.

                                                  ****

Perhaps Mandela's death will occasion a compassionate assessment of where South Africa is as a country right now, where it should be, and how to get there. The hope in a post-Mandela South Africa is that younger leaders can find their voice anew, liberate the political parties from the sins of self-enrichment that have robbed this country of moral authority, fight once more for the rights of the poor majority, and deliver to South Africa a vigorous democracy once again. It's sad that it might take the passing of Madiba for that to be possible.




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Jazz fans and local New Yorkers were saddened when Harlem's famous Lenox Lounge closed late last year, but the historical location may reopen, however, it's complicated. New York Times:
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The Lenox Lounge shut down on Dec. 31 after a bitter lease dispute between the club's owner and his landlord. The space was supposed to reopen within weeks under new management. But overnight, Alvin Reed, the bar's operator, removed the fixtures and furnishings and took them to a nearby storefront, where, he has said, he plans to reopen. That prompted a $50 million lawsuit from Ricky Edmonds, the landlord, demanding the fixtures be returned. Their next meeting before a judge, to present a settlement or set a court date, is scheduled for April 4.

For the moment, at least, plans for two versions of the Lenox Lounge are unfolding in parallel: one in the storied original location; the other up the street, with the lounge's fabled interior and trademarked name.

They will have company. Farther south, on West 118th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, another investor plans to reopen the legendary jazz haunt Minton's Playhouse, which before a recent short-lived run had been closed for almost as much of its raucous 75-year history as it had been open.

Maybe it's a long shot. But within the neighborhood's current economic remix, with its new condos and destination restaurants, three businessmen have latched on to the same dream at the same time: reviving a piece of vintage Harlem with a jumping, jamming jazz spot, that this time will outlive the past.



                                 Lenox Lounge (LenoxLounge.com)

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Voices and Soul

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by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

I love the Spring. It is about renewal, rebirth and Life.

But since I was a child in 1968, Spring has also harbored a sort of impending calamity. A foreboding and a heart-wrench.

In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.

I

honey people murder mercy U.S.A.  
the milkland turn to monsters teach  
to kill to violate pull down destroy  
the weakly freedom growing fruit  
from being born

America

tomorrow yesterday rip rape  
exacerbate despoil disfigure  
crazy running threat the  
deadly thrall
appall belief dispel
the wildlife burn the breast  
the onward tongue
the outward hand
deform the normal rainy  
riot sunshine shelter wreck
of darkness derogate
delimit blank
explode deprive
assassinate and batten up
like bullets fatten up
the raving greed
reactivate a springtime
terrorizing

death by men by more
than you or I can

STOP

       II

They sleep who know a regulated place
or pulse or tide or changing sky
according to some universal  
stage direction obvious  
like shorewashed shells

we share an afternoon of mourning  
in between no next predictable
except for wild reversal hearse rehearsal  
bleach the blacklong lunging
ritual of fright insanity and more
deplorable abortion
more and
more

-- June Jordan

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Welcome to the Front Porch

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Originally posted to Black Kos community on Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 12:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges.

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