Philadelphia, like most major cities in America, has become littered with teddy bear and candlelight shrines marking the violent deaths of young Black men and women.
Murder, particularly by gun violence, has become so prevalent and so pervasive among young Black males that it is the number one cause of death for those between the ages of 17 to 25. The well-documented statistics and the numerous causes of the violence are the subject of a three-day national conference being held in Philadelphia.
Call to Action: National Conference on Black on Black Violence as a Social Epidemic and Deployment of Workable Solutions, is being held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Presented by the Father’s Day Rally Committee, community and political leaders, criminal justice officials and members of the faith-based community are meeting to discuss strategies for reducing the number of homicides by 25 percent. Participants will look at evidence-based information on effective crime prevention programs, i.e., best practices, with the goal of replicating successful programs in their own communities.
“In today’s session we’re sharing programs and their success across the country,” Bilal Qayyum said. “We’re examining best practices to determine if a program in Philadelphia can work in Baltimore, or if something in Washington, DC can work here, or New Orleans. Now some people are asking what’s different between what’s happening here over the next three days as opposed to other conferences or meetings about this issue. First, national movements, which we’re trying to create today, have successes and failures - but you don’t stop moving. You keep pushing. For those naysayers out there, watch us as we keep moving. During the civil rights movement there were failures and successes, but at the end of the day, we got voting rights, we can go to any restaurant we want. In a year or two, if the homicide rate is down because of what we’re doing, we’ll know if we’re successful.”
Another expected outcome of the conference is the creation of a national network of groups and individuals who are already working to end the sub-culture of violence.
Needless to say, the task is a daunting one. It becomes even more so in an era of shrinking government budgets and dwindling available resources for alternatives to continuous incarceration rather than education and rehabilitation of the at-risk population.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between the thirty-five year period of 1976 and 2011, there were 279,384 black murder victims in the United States. Almost all of those murder victims were killed by other African Americans.
To place the national murder statistic of 279,384 Black murder victims in another light, a study conducted by the Tuskegee Institute showed that between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 blacks were lynched by racist whites. Numbers provided by the Veterans Hour, an on-line newspaper for veterans, showed there were 3,075 Black soldiers killed during the Korean War and 7,243 killed during the Vietnam War. Taking those figures in totality there were 13,764 Blacks lynched because of racism or killed in official U.S. military actions.
“If 200 whales beached themselves at Atlantic City, every scientist in the area would be there trying to figure out why. Every year, at least that many young African American males are killed at the hands of other young African American males in our major cities. But there are no sociologists or anthropologists lining up to figure out why,” said City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. “It’s a sad statistic that at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan at its height, more people in Philadelphia have been killed than lynched by the Klan. That’s a sad commentary for our city and our nation. We have to figure out how to turn the tide on this. I’ve been in rooms where architects have said, if a young Black male doesn’t read up to proficiency by the fourth grade, they know how many jail cells to build by the time they’re 18. The solution to the problem is in the problem. If there’s a correlation between literacy and crime then let’s educate, let’s teach kids to read. It costs far less to educate than incarcerate. We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem.”
According to law enforcement experts, Philadelphia’s homicide rate remains among the worst of the top ten cities across the nation. After a 20 percent decline in homicide over the last three years, the numbers are starting to climb again, challenging law enforcement officials, community leaders and legislators to devise effective means of curtailing the violence, much less end it . 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 Black neighborhoods.
“This problem is painful for me — not as mayor — but as a resident of this city; to see the damage to families and communities,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists killed 2,977 people. Last year in 13 cities there were 3,005 murders. Because of the terrorist attacks the federal government created the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. The government secures billions of dollars for these agencies in funding and equipment and training. I want to see a comparable response to the violence in our cities. I want people in our cities to be able to walk down the streets without being afraid.”