Earlier this year, four young African Americans, two men and two women, allegedly shot and killed a pizza deliveryman for the food he was supposed to be dropping off in a Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood.
The defendants in the case, Rashad Cheeseboro, Xylaca Devlin, Keyona Jones, and Michael Covington, were arrested for the murder of Ronald Anderson, killing him for the $11 pizza he was delivering. Police said that they took nothing else.
This crime and so many others like it form a larger picture of crime and violence in African-American communities from coast to coast. It is a problem that has become so prevalent and pervasive in Philadelphia that some experts say there are very, very few Black families that haven’t been touched by it in some way, whether directly or peripherally.
Bilal Qayyum, executive director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, is among those who think that because of the pervasiveness of the problem and the peripheral issues contributing to it, there needs to be a response on the national level. On Friday, Oct. 26, to Sunday, Oct. 28, the Pennsylvania Convention Center will be hosting Call to Action: National Conference on Black on Black Violence as a Social Epidemic and Deployment of Workable Solutions.
“We’re looking to basically accomplish three goals,” Qayyum said. “First, we need to create a national movement to address the issues of crime and violence in Black communities across the country. Solving this problem isn’t just about arresting people; in many, many cases if there had been some kind of thorough, strong intervention early on, maybe a violent crime wouldn’t have been committed. Second, we’re going to look at best practices and methods that are evidence-based and shown to be working. Maybe a program that’s working in Baltimore can be replicated in Philly. Maybe something we’re doing here can work in Chicago. Third, we’re going to create a national network of groups that are committed to reducing the violence by 25 percent by 2013. That might sound a little ambitious, but I think it can be done.”
As of Tribune press time there have been 268 murders in Philadelphia this year. According to law enforcement officials, most of the victims are Black males between the ages of 17 and 25. Typically, experts say, this at-risk population is a high school dropout — in some cases a junior high school dropout — with no marketable skills and a juvenile arrest record. Qayyum said the attendees of this national conference will be looking to develop strategies to address the problems of these young men and women who are already caught up in the street life — but getting to them before they’re either dead or in prison.
“We’ll be having a criminal justice session, looking at gangs, drugs and guns. All of these components are tied together,” Qayyum said. “As I understand it, for the most part the nationally-based gangs haven’t really been able to establish a significant foothold in Philadelphia. That doesn’t mean they won’t, but for right now, the old-heads are keeping them out, but once those cats start dying off, we’re going to have more trouble.”
According to the FBI’s National Gang Threat Assessment, gangs are expanding and are becoming more organized and sophisticated in terms of how they use technology. They maintain relationships with transnational drug traffickers and are more adaptable and opportunistic. The FBI reports there are at least 1.4 million active street, prison and outlaw biker gang members in 33,000 gangs across the country. Many communities are seeing an increase in ethic gangs.
According to law enforcement experts, among the top ten cities in the nation, Philadelphia’s homicide rate remains among the worst, with young Black males in the at-risk population being the majority of the victims and perpetrators. After a 20 percent decline in homicide over the last three years, the numbers are starting to inch up again. The numbers illustrate the glaring and frightening reality that a young Black man is safer fighting in Iraq than he is walking around the streets of Philadelphia’s African American neighborhoods.
Chad Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn, said a major part of the problem lies in young Black men returning to their communities from prison and finding limited or no resources in helping them secure living wage jobs. The conference will host a session on ex-offenders issues as well.
“We’re not doing nearly enough from an economic standpoint, and we have to truly level the economic and educational playing fields. In both areas, we see what we can almost define as a kind of apartheid,” Lassiter said. “We have major corporations here and major sports franchises — but no training programs to move workers into employment within them. Also, there’s not enough being done in the construction industry in terms of apprenticeships. Are there mentoring programs?
Qayyum said he’s aware that there has been little discussion of these issues on the national level and there’s been a silence about them during the presidential debates. Qayyum said he believes the reason for that is that either the Democrats or the Republicans want to take on the National Rifle Association.
“I think they’re just afraid to bring it up because they know if they do they have to discuss the flow of illegal weapons and any mention of gun control raises the attention of the NRA,” Qayyum said. “Now nationally crime and violence are down but not in the Black communities. I think they really don’t care and this is one reason for the conference. They don’t care as long as the Negroes are knocking each other off.”