Harlem Leaders Call for End of Gun Violence, Bury ‘Mentality of Thugism’

New Yorkers rallied in Harlem in a call to “stop gun violence.” (Photo by Bill Moore via Amsterdam News)

In the aftermath of the police shooting of Kimani Gray in Flatbush, Brooklyn, last month, pleas for an end to gun violence reverberated through the pages of Amsterdam News and Carib News.

More than just a call, through coverage of neighborhood events and in their editorial pages, the papers urged readers to confront the roots of the problem. In addition to demanding change from the NYPD, they encourage adults to provide young people with guidance and mentorship in an effort to stop youth from spiraling down a path of violence.

Led by community activist Iesha Sekou and the “I Am Peace” youth movement, hundreds turned out at 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard on March 21 to echo the words of advocates and prominent figures in denouncing gun violence, reports Amsterdam News.

One of many speakers, activist Jackie Rowe Adams told of losing her two sons to gun violence and chanted, “Put the guns down! Put the peace sign up!” And up went the V’s from the people at the rally.

Singer Tony Bennett and the Rev. Al Sharpton also spoke, with the latter referencing the civil rights movement, and saying, “But now our enemies are internal… We need a safety zone, a gun-free society. We need to take on the NRA and bury the mentality of thugism.”

In a similar vein of drawing from the past, Hazel Dukes of the NAACP emphasized to power in fighting together as one:

“We are not cowards,” she said, taking on those who would charge otherwise. “And just as we stood against voter supression, we are united against gun violence.”

Sekou took it one step further and called for action, telling the audience to “stop watching the 6 o’clock news and start talking to your children.”

Left to right: Cornelius Ricks, of Stop the Urban Youth Violence; Muhammad Ibn Bashir, moderator; panelists Asher Muhammad, John White, Ted Porteine, Dr. Glen Vickers and Jonathan Ager. (Photo by Gideon Manasseh via Amsterdam News)

Action was also on the minds of panelists at a discussion on “Why are Black youth at the age of 12 being charged as adults in America?” held at Harlem Library and hosted by Cornelius Ricks, the founder of Stop the Urban Youth Violence.

The Amsterdam News covered the event in which guests explored ways to help troubled youth. The article declared: “We now produce criminals instead of leaders, homeless people instead of homeowners and violence instead of education.”

One of the panelists, John White – who was convicted in the racially-charged fatal shooting of a Long Island teenager and later pardoned – suggested mentoring programs for youths, who grow up in a society intent on funneling kids to prison.

White, nationally known due to his self-defense of home and family case in Suffolk County, Long Island, said, “There is a need for after-school mentoring programs for our youth that uplift their self-esteem. They’re not focusing on college or family life … Hip-hop is their culture, and they are being targeted by the law officials to increase the prison populations. One felony and they’re not eligible to apply for municipals jobs, college and city housing … This is the hip-hop generation, and we adults must work together to solve these issues.”

Other guests also advocated for attacking the problem by addressing the roots of the issues.

Conflict resolution specialist Jonathan Ager said, “My goal is to decrease conflict and increase economical awareness in our community by going to the source and dealing directly with children in our schools and solving the problems there.”

Carib News editorial – written in the context of the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Gray – also tackles the problem of gun violence by examining the origins of the problem. In this case, the roots do not only concern supporting youth, but also fostering a comfortable environment for everyone.

The piece assails the mayor and the NYPD for “shamelessly confessing that draconian police measures are needed to make the city safe” as well as the “NYPD presumption that it is the sole wizardry of NYPD that has brought about the miracle.” Instead, the reality is a form of policing that disrespects people of color and their right to live in a society free of hostility.

The policing that took hold in the 1990s is more suitable for a fascist society rather than a democratic society committed to the bill of rights.

This kind of policing that leads to community alienation persists because of the low levels of organization. The presumption is that the black community is powerless and this every day trampling on the fourth amendment will continue ad infinitum.  The American Civil Liberties Union recently published a study of NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy.  Most of the stops were in poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods and most of the stops turned up nothing and amounted to a form of unconstitutional harassment. The presence of police officers on the streets has had a deterrent effect on street crime.  The pro-active policing has turned around drug markets and the identification of hot spots and the subsequent saturation with police personnel has helped to cool off many of the hot spots.

When it comes to the mayor, there exists a paradox between his national call for clamping down on guns and his citywide failure in creating a safe and harmonious society.

Bloomberg has provided leadership on the struggle for gun control but even though he has served three terms as Mayor of New York City, he has failed to develop a more sophisticated understanding of social order and the necessary public policies required to enhance community wellbeing.

While crime has decreased since the peak of decades past, the editorial stresses the need to nurture the roots that will establish a safe and respectful environment, especially for people of color.

Black on black crime has been in a downward trajectory from the 1990s.  There is a need for human service agencies to be pro-active and to be de-centralized.  There is a need for cadres who can mentor youth and establish ceasefires where there is a need.   The emphasis has to be on community development and empowerment.  NYPD must be forced by the new mayor to forge bridges with the black and Hispanic communities.

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