Wednesday, January 09, 2008


I wanted to follow up on yesterday's Lawson File posting about senseless violence. So today we'll take a look what folks in Cleveland are trying to do about it.

Last night at a community meeting in Cleveland activists and residents called for more money for community organizations, personal responsibility and pooling of resources in a broad plan aimed at stemming the city's gang-related problems.The meeting - Gang Ties: The Untold Truths - was sponsored by the Cleveland American Civil Liberties Union.

In Cleveland activists are trying to move beyond vigils, prayer groups, and police tip lines.

All of this is in contrast to the official city plan which was to re-up the police gang unit. This is a unit that many say accomplished next to nothing in its previous incarnation and add that its new 7 member squad will fare equally poorly. Seven cops to take on over 100 gangs...gimme a break.

Anyway, if the police could (or wanted) to stop random violence which especially afflicts communities of color and poor white neighborhoods they already would have done that. But really since the people with the power and the money are the least affected and since divide and conquer has always been a good strategy the STATE isn't likely to take care of business when it comes to street violent crime...and since those are the same folks who tell the cops what to do, the cops aren't going to take care of the problem or even approach it in a manner likely to be acceptable to you or me or the man or women living on the block.

We, the people, are going to have to be the ones to turn things around. We are going to have to find new and radical solutions to what is happening in our cities and towns. Or it is not going to be done.

It is necessary to get down and dirty. It is necessary to take to the streets on a continuous basis, to walk those streets, to talk to youth, to offer something, to watch for what's going down. It will take people who know those streets. It will take the work of people who have been there and who can be trusted. It can't just be a group of good hearted ministers and church goers, of social workers, and the like.

Along these lines last October Mayor Ron Dellums announced that Oakland intended to deploy 25 street outreach workers in the city's toughest neighborhoods in an effort to ease the violence that had claimed more than 90 lives so far that year.

"These are high-crime areas," Dellums said. "We want young people who are indigenous to these communities to go out and resolve conflicts before they start. Crime and violence is a cry for help, and this is one way that we can help."

"The best way to reduce homicides is to have street outreach workers," Dellums' spokesman Paul Rose said. "By being on the front lines, offering alternatives, jobs and counseling to the youth, we can resolve a lot of these conflicts before they escalate. These workers will offer a first line of contact with the city and the resources at our disposal."

Thing is 25 outreach workers is far from enough. Someone has to be willing to commit real money to pay lots of outreach workers...for the duration.

I've worked outreach myself and for a time went with some truly indigenous outreach workers (unlike me) to some of the meanest neighborhoods in Philadelphia (one of which is shown here). I saw close up and personal the ability of these workers to relate to those on the streets and vice versa. I saw them make changes in individuals lives. But there weren't, as always it seems, enough and their wasn't the long range commitment and funding necessary to make much of a dent.

And, again, when I talk about outreach workers I'm not talking about a bunch of social workers (white, black, brown, red or yellow) here. I'm talking real people, tough people, people who aren't afraid. People who have street cred. They're hard to find, but they exist.

Of course, to really rid our society of senseless violence, gangs and crime would take more than even a revolution. I know that, but don't talk to me about that right now. Right now talk to me about ideas to empower, really empower, local folks to fight back and regain some control over their neighborhoods and their lives.

I keep harping on it, but this is an "issue" that can't be left to right wing law and order nuts, or anti-gun advocates. This is an issue that must be taken up by us.

Its gritty, its dirty, its not the topic that left wingers like to sit around and talk about in any but the most generic political "talk to the choir" manner.

But, folks, I'm telling you this is a working class, anti-racist, youth, human rights issue and we should freaking be there.

The following is from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Far be it from me to say the programs mentioned in the article are the best or only solutions, but I offer this as an example of people getting fed up with the violence around them and trying, at least, to do something about it.

Cleveland activists try to end gun violence
John Caniglia and Jesse Tinsley

Cleveland activists are plotting ways to prevent the violence that killed Randell Hardy and 133 other slaying victims in 2007.

Last year was the bloodiest year in Cleveland in 13 years. Hardy was the last to die by a bullet in the city and community activists hosted a vigil in the 19-year-old's memory Wednesday night.

"We know that he didn't do nothing wrong to nobody," said Victoria Cooke, Hardy's aunt, as she stood be fore a crowd of about 75 peo ple gathered outside the Central Recrea tion Center where Hardy was shot. "It was not fair to him, and it's not fair to us."

Cooke and Khalid Samad, head of Peace in the Hood, pleaded with the group of mostly young people to help end the kind of violence that took Hardy's life and to provide any information that would help track down the killer.

"I am angry because this is another senseless black life that has been taken," Samad said. "This is straight-up murder, and we need to stop harboring and protecting and acting like we don't know what happened. Somebody in this neighborhood knows what happened. We want to get this murderer off the streets and locked up."

To prevent another year of triple-digit homicides, police vow to work with residents. Mayor Frank Jackson plans to work to stamp out illegal guns.

Activists want to get closer to the problem, telling at-risk teenagers about the perils of guns and drugs. They also want to push for more activities so youths can learn and grow.

"Not everyone is LeBron James," said Kevin Bell of Peace in the Hood. "Kids need more than just basketball."

Group leaders said they have attended scores of vigils in 2007, and they must become more proactive. The groups want to:

Meet with troubled, at-risk teenagers as much as possible, in their homes, schools and jail cells. Peace in the Hood is pushing to find 1,000 men and women who will walk through the city's neighborhoods, not as vigilantes, but as mentors.

They are seeking people youths can look up to. People who come from similar backgrounds and understand the challenges kids face. The group already has about 300 people ready to go through neighborhoods.

Mothers Against Youth Violence will offer panels at detention centers called "Mothers of Pain," where women will discuss the trauma of being told their sons and daughters are dead.

Streamline the activist network.

Samad said too many groups are more worried about getting credit than helping the city. By working together, the groups can accomplish much more. Activists worked closely in the early 1990s when homicides soared. As homicides fell, their ranks dropped by half by 2000 and the groups fragmented, he said.

Keep an open dialogue with police and politicians.

It is easy to appear at photo opportunities, but it is more difficult to speak with city leaders on neighborhood issues, Samad said. His group is looking into a plan to set up a phone line where residents with concerns or problems can call, without fear of criminals getting back at them.

The complaints or information would then be turned over to police or council members. Neighborhood residents are more likely to call people they know then call the police, Samad said.

The suggestions, the activists say, could help stem the violent trend in the city.

"I never would have believed you if you told me 20 or 30 years ago that the city would be this dangerous," said Patricia Tinsley, the president of Mothers Against Youth Violence. "It's going to take us, the people, to bring the city back."

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