Former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr., head of Amachi, to be co-chair
Mobilizing the entire city government and allies across the city, Mayor Michael Nutter has re-established the Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males.
“The City of Philadelphia is eager to help,” the mayor said in announcing the new commission. “The entire city government, everyone in city government and all of our related agencies will have a role to play, will be tasked to support the efforts of the mayor’s commission.
The group will eventually be composed of about 30 volunteer members tasked with addressing unemployment, incarceration, a lack of education and health among Black men. They will issue an annual report on the state of African-American men in Philadelphia, along with recommendations for action.
“We must all look at the big picture,” Nutter said. “If a man is uneducated … if they are unemployed, if they are unhealthy, we pretty much know what their life path will be. But, if they are educated, employed and healthy they are a lot less likely to be part of the criminal justice system.”
Nutter signed an executive order creating the commission at a special ceremony Thursday afternoon at City Hall.
He also named its three co-chairs: former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr., who first created the commission in 1991 and now heads Amachi, an education non-profit; Bilal Qayyum, president of the Father’s Day Rally Committee Inc. and Jamar Izzard, a radio host at 107.9.
“The plight of the African-American male is a crisis,” Goode said. “Unless something is done, then the future of African-American males looks very, very bleak.”
Goode first created the commission because he had concerns similar to Nutter’s.
“There are ways we can begin to deal with this problem if we show it attention,” he said, adding that if Nutter hadn’t asked him to be a part of the commission he would have begged to be appointed. “For me, this is my life’s work.”
Qayyum and Izzard echoed Goode.
“We have to challenge ourselves and all the others around us to change their attitude and their behavior,” Qayyum said. “We’re going to make some changes in this city to let folks know that there are more positive Black men in the city doing positive things than there are doing negative things.”
“I’m going to give it everything I have,” added Izzard.
From one end of Philadelphia to the other, virtually no neighborhood — from Society Hill to Grays Ferry and from University City to Strawberry Mansion — is exempt from the senseless violence that seems to have a vice-like grip on Philadelphia.
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 between the ages of 17 to 25 consistently 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. To put the figures in context, there have been 183 murders in Philadelphia as of Tribune press time. By contrast, one U.S. serviceman was killed in Iraq in 2012. In 2011, there were 324 murder victims in Philadelphia, again, mostly Black males. In Iraq for that same year, 54 U.S. servicemen were killed.
The numbers illustrate the glaring and frightening reality that a young Black man is safer in Iraq fighting insurgents than he is walking around the streets of Philadelphia’s African American neighborhoods.
The contributing causes of what drives the senseless violence in Philadelphia seem to defy the best efforts of lawmakers, community leaders and anti-violence advocates to curtail it. Mentoring has been shown to work, but is there enough funding to sustain a major effort to reach the at-risk population? The at-risk population needs living wage jobs, but statistics show that most of the perpetrators of the violence are high school, or even junior high school dropouts with long records of arrests and incarcerations. Then there are the illegal guns. The Gun Violence Task Force has confiscated thousands of illegal weapons since its inception, and still the violence continues. Over and over the refrain is heard from residents and government representatives alike – “We must do something about the violence in our neighborhoods.”
The question is what?
At the ninth Annual Summit on Race, Culture and Human Relation, Mayor Michael Nutter put the issue in context when he compared the country’s reaction to Black on Black crime and its response to terrorism.
“Black men are becoming an endangered species in America — locked up or dead,” Nutter said. “Crime also breeds upon itself. After serving their time, many of the individuals who are released from our prisons cannot find work, and do not have the training or literacy skills to keep a job. In the United States today, one in three African American men will have contact with the criminal justice system at some point during their lives. Of the 316 people who were murdered in Philadelphia last year, nearly 75 percent of those killed were Black men. Around 80 percent of those doing the killing are Black men. Black on Black crime is not an isolated problem. It affects every member of every community. This is a national problem with national implications, and there needs to be a national conversation.”
In 2004, on the morning of Feb. 11, 10-year old Faheem Thomas-Childs was caught in the crossfire of a gunfight at the T.M. Peirce Elementary School in North Philadelphia. The killing of Thomas-Childs touched off citywide outrage - and he was only one of 330 people killed that year in the city.
During military operations in Iraq from 2007 to 2012, 1,482 American service members were killed. In Philadelphia for the same years, 1,654 people were killed — mostly Black males. To color that number even more, according to Philadelphia Police Department figures, 645 Black males between the ages of 17 and 25 were murdered in Philadelphia during those years. By contrast, 27 Black males between the same ages were fatally shot by police officers in the commission of their duties.
“There are combinations of different causes behind this senseless bloodshed,” said Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. “Many times these are petty disputes that rise to the level of violence. Some of the reports I’ve seen indicate drug turf wars in some instances, but all of it has a negative impact on the community, and most of the victims are young Black males. The reality is that we cannot give up and just sit on the sidelines; we have to keep working aggressively to change the mindset of these young men.”
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.
“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? Attorney General Eric Holder giving $3 million to hire twenty five police officers doesn’t excite me. I’d like to see that money used to target and prosecute the traffickers of illegal guns.”
Bilal Qayyum, Executive Director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, Inc., said his organization is in the planning stages of setting up a national level conference on Black on Black crime. Call to Action: Black on Black Violence Conference will be hosted by St. Joseph’s University and will take place from August 10 through August 13. The purpose is to bring African American leaders together from across the country to see what works and what doesn’t, and how to apply successful anti-violence approaches in their cities and communities.
“What works in Baltimore might not work in Philadelphia. What works in Philadelphia may not work in Newark. We are 13 percent of the population of America, but cause 50 percent of the homicides - and we’ve been trying to get a hold on this for years. It requires a response on the national level. What we hope to achieve with the conference is create a national movement to help end the violence. We need to look at fresh models and create a national network of groups to work on the problem,” Qayyum said.
The shooting death of Trayvon Martin has been called everything from a national tragedy to a national disgrace; a hate crime with more and more rallies taking place everyday calling for George Zimmerman’s arrest and justice for the victim and his grieving family.
President Barack Obama has also weighed in on the issue, leaving behind the sound bite, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”
But absent from most of the discussions, most of the rallies, most of the righteous anger and all of the remarks from an increasing plethora of Black leaders and media figures is the other national disgrace — the abominably high murder rate among young Black males.
“This is an epidemic that’s been going on too long,” said Mayor Michael Nutter in a recent interview. “And unfortunately, you will find African-American males at the bottom of good categories and at the top of negative categories.”
Last Thursday, Mayor Nutter spoke at a rally in Love Park regarding the Martin killing. Nutter said people are concerned over Trayvon Martin, but also need to be outraged over what’s happening on their own street corners.
“How is it possible that thousands of Black men, thousands of Black people, [are] killed every year, and no one says a word?” asked Nutter in a published report.
Community leader and anti-violence activist Bilal Qayyum, who is also working with other community leaders on the new media campaign Live and Let Live: Promoting Peace and Eradicating the Culture of Violence, also questioned the Black community’s lack of outrage over the meaningless killings that happen in its neighborhoods every single day.
“Everyone is angry about what happened to this kid Trayvon Martin in Florida, but I tell people that in Philadelphia in the last ten years we’ve had 3,760 people killed. And over 2,600 of them were Black males,” Qayyum said. “Where’s the anger about that? In Chicago, there were a bunch of shootings just a couple of weekends ago and again, mostly Black males killing other Black males. Where is the outrage over that?”
The Black genocide taking place in the African-American communities didn’t happen overnight, social experts say. And, many of the factors contributing to it weren’t spawned in the Black community. Systemic racism, government apathy, the poor quality of education in many predominantly Black public schools and the loss of living wage jobs, have all played a part in creating the ongoing bloodshed.
“This is something that affects every aspect of life in our city,” said Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW and president of Black Men at Penn. Lassiter said the level of anger isn’t the same because people are being reactive rather than proactive, which is harder.
“It’s easier to be visceral rather than do the hard work of violence prevention,” Lassiter said. “We’re silent over the Black genocide, yet Trayvon Martin’s assassination gives us an example of the level of outrage that could take place — but deafening silence when the same thing happens on the street corners of our neighborhoods. I think it’s because we’re hypocrites; we’re okay with the moral erosion happening right in front of our eyes. There’s too much talk and too much inactivity — too much silence from the Black churches and the Black community. There are too many Black Zimmermans in our communities right now. Curtis up the street can commit two murders, and no one is willing to say anything. Are we really going to be okay with that?”
To cite a recent example, on March 20 at around 3:30 p.m., an unidentified Black male pulled up in a gold colored car in the vicinity of Fifth and Pierce streets. The still unidentified male fired several shots at a 19-year-old Black male. The victim ran south on Fifth and then onto Pierce Street, according to police. The unidentified shooter pursued him, still firing, and striking two men, ages 51 and 52. The victims were hospitalized in stable condition. That same evening, just before 9 p.m., gunfire exploded again inside a playground near Fourth and Washington where at least 60 people were gathered. An unidentified gunman fired several shots into the crowd, striking a 12-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl. The boy suffered a graze wound to the ankle and the girl was struck in the thigh. Both were rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where they were treated and released.
At the publishing of this article, the number of homicides in Philadelphia this year has climbed to 92. According to figures from reports researched by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, across the nation, 85 percent of the Black victims of homicide are male, and 51 percent are between the ages of 17 and 19.
“Should we be outraged over the death of Trayvon Martin? Yes, but cases like this happen everyday,” said Minister Rodney Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. “Martin’s death symbolizes the injustices done to us on a daily basis. The hoodie he wore was part of the stereotypical profile, but Wall Street stuck up the whole nation wearing business suits. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan called it justifiable homicide — that Zimmerman felt justified because our Black genocide gives a license to people like him. There has to be resentment over the wide spread murder of ourselves and our injustices to each other. I think for too long we’ve relied on someone else for our own betterment. We’re overdue to stop asking America for what’s due to us. We’ve done a great work for America and now it’s time to do a great work for ourselves. We have geniuses in every field of human endeavor, and we need to marshal those strengths. When we do better, America does better. There was a time when our children would walk ten miles to learn to read and write. Now we have children who live across the street from a Free Library and have never been inside it.”
Philadelphia has had 187 murders so far in 2012, and law enforcement officials, along with lawmakers and city residents, are concerned about the recent spike in homicides.
In January, as a further incentive for the community to tell police where the city’s most wanted fugitives are hiding, Mayor Michael Nutter announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of these dangerous criminals.
“We will be doubling the funding of our witness assistance program to protect witnesses from that hateful ‘don’t snitch’ mentality. Also, as of today there is a standing reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspects wanted for murder, wanted for any homicide in the city. To every criminal out there, I just put a $20,000 bounty on your head. We’re coming for you, we will find you, and people will give up that information,” Nutter said.
So far, although no one has been able to claim a $20,000 reward, that doesn’t mean someone isn’t going to, according to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who said it’s a little early to gauge results yet.
“The $20,000 is for the arrest and conviction of a suspect — and right now we do have some people who are eligible, but it’s still a little early at this point,” Ramsey said. “There are several cases that are still going through the process of the justice system, and that takes some time.”
Is a $20,000 “bounty” enough of an incentive for witnesses and tipsters to override the so-called “no snitching” culture and come forward with information regarding the locations of the city’s most wanted? Some city leaders think so.
“I think $20,000 is more than sufficient, provided of course that people know the police will protect them — witness protection is always a paramount issue,” said Chad Lassiter, MSW, President of Black Men at Penn. “I think we also need to keep the information about the reward money in the minds of city residents through ads and flyers and public information — almost like a campaign. I think if people know the money is there and protection is there, they’re going to keep cooperating with police.”
Bilal Qayyum, longtime community activist and executive director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, also raised the issue of protecting tipsters and witnesses. Qayyum said there are probably homicide cases where people know who the killer is, and know where they are, but are still afraid of retaliation — even though the suspect probably doesn’t have enough influence to have someone killed even if they’re on the other side of the city.
“The reality is that most of these cats are just thugs who have no real organization behind them — they can’t reach beyond their own neighborhoods. They might have some crazy family members or friends but that’s it. But the perception is that they can. Look at that young girl, Chante Wright who was in witness protection. They couldn’t get her until she left the program and came back to Philly,” Qayyum said. “So is $20,000 enough to really make witnesses or tipsters give up the information? I used to think so, but maybe its not.”
The following local fugitives are wanted for murder. Getting them off the streets will make communities that much safer, and could make someone’s bank account a little fatter. Anyone with information regarding their whereabouts should contact the Philadelphia Police Homicide Unit at 215-686-3334 / 3335 or dial 911.
The night of June 24 was a busy one for Philadelphia police, who had to respond to several shootings and stabbings that weekend. Among them was George Fox, 44, who was working the bar at T-Barr’s Place, in the 2200 block of South 8th Street. Fox was stabbed multiple times during an attempted robbery. Through reviewing surveillance cameras as part of the investigation, police have identified a suspect in Fox’s killing. Authorities are searching for 31-year-old Omar Wright. According to investigators, surveillance recordings show Wright entering the bar wearing a hoodie and demanding money from Fox. He allegedly stabbed the victim, stole cash from the register and fled the scene.
On Sunday, January 1, at approximately 1:25 a.m., police officers from the 15th District responded to a radio call of gunshots and a male shot on the highway. Upon arrival, officers located an unknown male suffering from multiple gunshot wounds to the neck and back. The victim was identified as Gerard Market, 48, from the 4100 block of Orchard Street. Market was rushed to Temple University Hospital, where physicians pronounced him dead at 1:55 a.m. Based on their investigation, homicide detectives issued an arrest warrant for Christopher Johnson, 30, on January 4. Johnson is from the 1300 block of 66th Avenue.
On the night of Thursday, February 9, at 1:29 a.m., police officers from the 39th District were called to the vicinity of Marion and Hansberry Street in response to a report of gunfire. When responding officers arrived at the location, they found 23-year old David McClenic suffering from multiple gunshot wounds to the torso. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene. The investigation revealed that McClenic was involved in a physical altercation with several males and connected Anthony Baker, 26, with the fatal shooting. Baker’s last known address was on the 6300 block of Algard Street.
At the Democratic National Convention, a number of issues were brought to the spotlight, showing the vast differences between the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan platform and President Barack Obama’s administration.
On Tuesday night, the mayor of San Antonio, Texas, Julian Castro, electrified the audience with his speech, as did first lady Michelle Obama and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. They touched on women’s rights, the continuing political wrestling over same-sex marriage, veteran’s benefits and other national issues and problems.
Absent was any statement regarding the national epidemic of Black on Black violence — violence which consumes cities like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Camden and Chicago. Even President Barack Obama has been noticeably silent on the issue, according to some community leaders — and they’re starting to ask why.
“I’ve noticed this, and normally they’re quiet on this issue, but there’s a silence on many serious domestic issues like structural poverty. There are issues that need to be addressed and aren’t,” said author and sociologist Dr. Elijah Anderson. “When it comes to the problem of crime and violence in Black and Latino communities, could it be indifference? We can speculate that it is. Certainly these communities are hurting; there is a national recession and a depression in inner city poor communities.”
Bilal Qayyum, executive director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee also said that he noticed the silence on the part of various speakers regarding the high numbers of young Black and Latino men who are killed every day in America. Qayyum said both parties are afraid of the National Rifle Association.
“Both parties have been very silent, haven’t they? I think it’s because they’re scared of the NRA,” Qayyum said. “Now in the light of the shootings in Colorado, there’s renewed discussion on banning assault weapons. But when it comes to Black and Latino males gunning each other down, I can tell you that Mitt Romney doesn’t really care — but then both parties have been silent on the issue of violence in America in general.
“Mayor Castro didn’t say anything about it and neither did the first lady. Patrick did mention the problem of crime, but didn’t get into specifics. It’s an issue that they’re not really sure how white voters would respond to. What they could do is cloak the subject by speaking about crime and violence in general because really, when it comes down to it, it is an American problem, not a Black American problem. I’d bet that if you took a national poll and asked the average American what were their two biggest concerns, the first would be jobs and the second would be crime. I also think that if you politicize this, you’ll find yourself in a fight with the NRA. The only person who is likely to mention this problem is Mayor Michael Nutter, who has spoken about this before as a national issue.”
Mayor Michael Nutter was scheduled to speak at the convention on Wednesday, but was rescheduled for Thursday night. In the past, as president of the United States Conference of Mayors, Nutter has been outspoken concerning the high murder rate among young Black and Latino men and the issue of illegal guns that fuel the violence.
According to figures from reports researched by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 85 percent of the Black victims of homicide are male and 51 percent are between the ages of 17 and 19. Across the nation, Blacks accounted for 49 percent of all murder victims in 2005. Black males accounted for 52 percent. If those figures were reversed and white males were killing each other at such a rate, no national resource would be spared to stop it, said Chad Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn.
“We know why there’s a silence on this issue,” Lassiter said. “There’s lots of jibber-jabber and well-rehearsed, well-written speeches that are calculated to get an emotional response — but are thin on substance. I’m not surprised there’s no real discussion on the issue of Black and Latino males murdering each other, because we’re talking about a segment of the population that’s not part of the landscape. These young men are seen as a permanent underclass, as sub-human and ostracized from society. To raise these issues means you have to talk about institutional racism, the high incarceration and drop out rates — and they’re not going to risk their lobby contracts or their political futures. When it comes to this kind of violence there isn’t a real effort on the part of the power elite to address it. Poverty is a ‘no-no’ and Black male violence is a ‘no-no.’
Philadelphia criminal defense attorney and community activist Michael Coard said the problem won’t be raised because of racism.
“Why isn’t this issue being raised? Because Romney doesn’t give a damn and Obama is afraid to give a damn,” Coard said. “But really, if you think about it, there’s no such thing as Black on Black crime. People don’t commit crime because of race, but because of opportunity and because it’s convenient — it’s neighbor on neighbor crime. Statistically speaking, white males commit more crimes because they’re a larger segment of the population, but the white media doesn’t report that — and why? Because just like America is racist, the media is also racist.”
For Heaven’s sake do something!
Do something about the epidemic of homicides killing more Americans daily than deaths of American soldiers on battlefields in long running wars in foreign lands.
For Heaven’s Sake is not just a phrase applicable to this circumstance.
Last Wednesday in Chicago a seven-year-old girl named Heaven Sutton was fatally shot as she worked alongside her mother selling cold drinks and candy on an inner-city street.
From New Year’s Day 2012 to the June 27 murder of Heaven, 253 murders struck Chicago, a surge in homicides nearly 38 percent higher than the same period last year.
This epidemic of homicides is not exclusive to Chicago, the city that the president of the United States calls home and the city where the president’s former chief of staff serves as mayor.
New Orleans, from January to July, logged 87 homicides.
In Omaha, Neb., 16 people were murdered from January to mid-June, the youngest victim being 15 years old.
In Seattle, from January to May’s end 21 murders raked that West Coast city, a number exceeding all murders there in 2011.
Philadelphia’s logged 185 murders in 2012, according to the July 1 total posted on the Philadelphia Police Department’s website.
“What’s also important to understand about Philly is that we’re averaging 1,600-plus [non-fatal] shootings per year,” anti-violence activist Bilal Qayyum said. “In America every week there are 124 murders, nearly 18 per day.”
New York City experienced 4,161 murders from 2003-2011.
That number of murders in NYC is 314 less than the death toll for America soldiers during the Iraq War, that lie-based occupation launched by former President George Bush that “officially” lasted during the same 2003-2011 time period.
This problem of murderous misery roiling America urban streets seemingly is not on the “radar screen” of national political leaders.
The presumptive presidential candidates for the two major parties — President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney — parry on the economy and promised improvements but remain dead silent on solutions to the violence snatching innocent lives across America like little Heaven Sutton.
The conservative cackle controlling the U.S. Congress seemingly is more concerned with clobbering Obama and creating rights for the unborn than taking steps to secure a right-to-life for children who are fearful of the violent conditions they endure daily.
News reports from Chicago stated that Heaven Sutton often begged her mother to move to escape the rampant violence.
Is that cold shoulder congressional conservatives and too many liberals give to homicidal urban violence a consequence of the complexion of the victims?
In NYC, 61 percent of those 2003-2011 4,000-plus murders were Black men, with Hispanics accounting for 27 percent.
Bilal Qayyum, head of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, said that in Philadelphia Black males accounted for 2,765 of the 3,785 murders between 2001 and 2010.
Chicago police arrested a suspect in the Heaven Sutton murder thanks to eyewitnesses. Yet arresting individual killers does not change the climate churning out criminals.
Grassroots folks are stepping up to confront America’s epidemic of violence and related issues while too many politicians piddle.
Philadelphia’s Qayyum is spear-heading a national conference in August to bring anti-violence activists nationwide to Philadelphia for tackling black-on-black violence.
“We hope this conference will be the beginning of a national movement around this issue. We have to find models that can be adapted to each city. One program will not work everywhere,” Qayyum said.
The three goals of this conference (8/10-12) that will host activists from NYC to Seattle are: (1) create a national movement to address the black-on-black violence epidemic; (2) create a nationwide network of groups that work on anti-violence; and, (3) provide ‘best practices’ of successful anti-violence strategies.
“In Philadelphia during the 1970s we eliminated murders from gang violence so concerted approaches can be successful,” Qayyum said.
In the 1970s federal government funded public-service jobs were available as an inducement for warring gang members, a pay-check producing option that Qayyum concedes is not available in today’s recession weathered America.
Qayyum also concedes that there are no easy answers to this homicide problem that is impacted by an array of factors including massive unemployment, family breakdowns, lost hope and institutional racism.
“In the neighborhoods with a high number of shootings there is also high unemployment, high-poverty and mothers raising families without fathers. The environment is creating the monsters who act out with violence,” Qayyum said.
Governmental leaders find money when they want, like $55-million to fund the May NATO summit in Chicago, but cry broke on curing urban ills.
“People with jobs are less likely to create problems…Fewer guns mean fewer homicides.”
Qayyum is committed that this scheduled conference will be light on rhetoric and heavy on developing action.
“People will leave this conference with recommendations to take home and implement,” Qayyum said.
After the conference, Qayyum said, there will be constant monitoring to determine successes and failures to retool to accomplish the ultimate goal of significantly reducing violence in black communities.
Last week a group of activists met in Camden to plan a march from that violence plagued city to Trenton, New Jersey’s capital, in early August.
Daryl Brooks, a Trenton activist who attended that Camden meeting, said, “One of the things we are pushing for is the need for mandatory anti-violence education in schools and juvenile detention facilities.”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship program.
House votes to cut $83M for ex-offender rehabilitation
Many studies have been done in recent years about the rise of the prison population in America, the racial disparity that is all too evident in penal institutions and the high recidivism rate for those who have been incarcerated.
Some federal, state and local officials have seen the need to establish programs that successfully help ex-offenders reintegrate back into the communities — such as Mayor Michael Nutter’s Office of Re-Integration Services for Ex-Offenders, R.I.S.E.
But in September, the Republican controlled U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations approved a bill that would eliminate funding for the Second Chance Act, which provides resources to nonprofits, states and local government to assist previously incarcerated people re-enter communities. Instead of supporting legislation that would shrink national prison populations, the new measure would add $300 million to the federal Bureau of Prisons’ $6 billion budget.
Not surprising, the purpose of that funding would support the building of seven new prisons over the next four years.
Advocates of criminal justice reform say this policy would continue the trend of increasing incarceration and racial disparity already inherent in the criminal justice system.
“We must embrace the humanity of ex-offenders and stop this second class citizenship by those who say they are politicians, but really are prison profiteers in this new slave system of the Prison Industrial Complex,” said Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW, co-founder and president of Black Men at Penn School of Social Work, Inc. “The collapse of the Second Chance Act funding is just a continuation of the agenda of prison expansion in an era in which ex-offenders are seen as inhuman in the eyes of a racist society. We need an act of humanity and we need to eliminate these weak politicians with our vote.”
The Second Chance Act legislation was signed into law during the Bush administration on April 9, 2008. The Second Chance Act provided federal money to non-profit organizations and federal agencies working to employ ex-offenders and provide substance abuse and mental health treatment, housing and other support services to prevent recidivism.
Originally the Second Chance Act was budgeted at $100 million in fiscal year 2010, and that was reduced to $83 million this year.
“The bill eliminates funding for the Second Chance Act programs [and] throws money at our prison overpopulation problem by increasing the Bureau of Prisons’ budget while eliminating funding for a proven solution to keep people out of prison,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy. Leahy has pledged to work to restore funding when the House and Senate Appropriations Committees attempt to resolve budgetary differences.
“None of this comes as a surprise to me,” said Bilal Qayyum, Executive Director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee. “Republicans are interested in locking people up, not reducing the prison population. But this reflects how many people across the country think. Also, there is an economic component since prisons are built in rural communities and provides jobs for those areas. Republicans aren’t gung-ho about closing prisons and they don’t want people to have a second chance.”
Recently, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with officials of the federal Re-entry Council to address ways of ensuring that those individuals returning from prison become productive, law-abiding citizens. Among the topics on the table was the $83 million in Fiscal Year 2011 funding the Department of Justice would award for Second Chance Act grants and other re-entry programs.
“We must use every tool at our disposal to tear down the unnecessary barriers to economic opportunities and independence so that formerly incarcerated individuals can serve as productive members of their communities,” Holder said in a published report. “The Department of Justice announced it is providing funding to local organizations whose critical work will reduce recidivism and victimization. At the same time, the council is ensuring these individuals and their families have the facts about federal policies and resources governing employment issues, veterans’ benefits and voting rights as they return home.”
Laurie O. Robinson, Assistant Attorney General in the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs also announced that 131 grants were recently awarded with the $83 million appropriated by Congress in Fiscal Year 2011 for the Second Chance Act and other re-entry programs.
“The fact that we received more than 1,000 applications for Second Chance funding this year shows that states and communities around the country are working together on reentry issues and community safety,” Robinson said in a press release.
According to the Pennsylvania Prison Society, 90 percent of the present inmate population will be released back into the community at some point with at least 65 percent likely to recidivate — having committed new crimes and be re-sentenced to prison. But experts say that with proper support mechanisms such as jobs, drug and alcohol counseling and life skills development, those numbers can be greatly reduced.
“It’s everything,” said William DiMascio, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. “While you’re in prison everything is structured; you’re told when to wake up, when to eat, when to shower. When they get released they’re basically told, ‘You’re on your own.’ They need legitimate employment; it’s essential to their self-esteem and their physical and emotional wellbeing. Since the Nutter Administration came on board there’s been a commitment to helping ex-offenders. Now they’ve had some challenges, but to their credit they have persisted. Not many people want to give you accolades for helping ex-inmates find jobs, but these people are a part of the community. We have to help them.”
DiMascio said that there are a lot of obstacles that confront ex-offenders, many of them institutionalized but there are also a lot of successful models that exist to help them and right now there is a growing recognition that ex-offenders don’t have to recidivate. Being released from prison is a big adjustment and they have to be mentally prepared for that.
“Language skills for example; many ex-offenders speak the language of the street and when you’re looking for work you have to be able to express to a prospective employer why you’re a good candidate for a job. This isn’t rocket science,” DiMascio said. He also said that improved and expanded services for ex-offenders would have a positive impact within the African-American community.
According to research conducted by the Sentencing Project, of the 2.3 million people serving time in the United States at least 60 percent are African American and other ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, the figures are staggering; 1 out of 8 are in prison or jail on any given day.
“The flip side of all this is when are our young Black men going to wake up and stop behaving like fools?” asked Qayyum. “They don’t have to engage in behavior that’s going to end with a prison sentence or worse. Education has always been the key issue because education gives you the analytical skills needed to make wiser decisions. You think twice before committing a crime. Prison is not the way to go; all it does is short circuit your future. People in government who want to cut the funding for these programs know that.”
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.”
Since the start of 2012 there have been 54 homicides in Philadelphia and — as anyone in the Black community readily knows — most of those deaths are young Black males — and statistics show it has been that way since the 1990s — with varying degrees of fluctuation.
Changing those bleak, nightmarish statistics has been the mission of a legion of community leaders. And the problem of deadly, senseless violence among young Black males continues to draw the attention of local, state and federal legislators who funnel money into anti-violence programs and initiatives aimed at reaching the at-risk population.
This week, Bilal Qayyum, executive director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, announced that a coalition of community groups have started the latest campaign to enter the trenches and try and change the perspective of the target population — the young Black male. Called “Live and Let Live: Promoting Peace Through the Eradication of the Culture of Violence,” the year-long effort will begin in March with highly visible billboards and lawn signs, posters, handouts and a lot more.
The overall idea is that many young Black males don’t even expect to be alive past their twenties — and sadly, as the statistics show, many of them won’t be. But Qayyum and others believe that perspective can and must change — now.
“This is a theme campaign and it’s very simple: Live and let live,” Qayyum said. “A lot of young folks, they don’t know if they are going to live beyond their 20s, especially young African-American males. But we’re hearing different conversations out there on the streets, where young people are starting to say ‘To hell with this, I want to live.’ That’s the message, ‘I’m going to let you live, and you’re going to let me live. Let’s stop the foolishness.’”
Qayyum says his organization, the Father’s Day Rally Committee, has teamed with other community groups who are also working to end the violence: House of Umoja, Town Watch Integrated Services, Public Safety Net, Every Murder is Real and the Lifers’ Public Safety Initiative. Qayyum said they decided not to have a formal press conference; they just wanted to get things moving.
“This isn’t a new organization, just groups that have already been out there working at this. But this is the first time we’re working together on the same campaign,” he said. “This will be a year long campaign, and we’re pushing the theme. Congressman Bob Brady’s office donated toward the billboards, Back to Basics, the organization that works in the Latino community is on board with this, as well as the Asian business community. You know the Asian community has suffered some robberies and homicides lately, so there’s a lot of support there are well. Clear Channel will be running PSAs. At the end of the year, we’ll assess what we’ve done and see how successful this was.”
Statistically speaking, young Black males between the ages of 18 and 25 are the most at risk to either die by violence or commit an act of deadly violence, Qayyum said. The reasons are multi-layered, but not impossible to change.
“The police are doing a great job, and I know Mayor Nutter has been serious about changing things for Black males. The key issues are education and jobs. Without jobs and the resources to create jobs and promote business, all of this is just conversation,” he said.
The choice of Richard A. Hayne as the recipient of the 2011 Edward Powell Award has raised some eyebrows.
Hayne, co-founder, chairman and president of Urban Outfitters, Inc., was presented with the prestigious business award on Monday, Feb. 6 during the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s mayoral luncheon.
The award is presented once every four years to the Philadelphia business leader recognized for outstanding contributions to the economic prosperity of the city.
Hayne has built Urban Outfitters into an internationally recognized clothing retailer, however, some are questioning why he won such a prestigious award when the company has been frequently criticized for lacking diversity.
William P. Hankowsky, chairman, president and CEO of Liberty Property Trust, said Hayne was chosen from a pool of more than 100 nominees.
Hankwosky led the three-person committee, appointed by Mayor Michael Nutter, whose members solicited the nomination and recommended the winner.
When Hayne accepted the $100,000 award, he pledged to donate the funds with a matching sum to Drexel University’s Baiada Center for Entrepreneurship.
Headquartered at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Urban Outfitters includes its namesake retail chain and the Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain and BHLDN brands.
Last November, Calvert Investments, which promotes socially responsible investment, criticized Urban Outfitters for lack of diversity on its board. No women or minorities serve on its six-member board.
The retailer also faced criticism from the organization 2020 Women on Boards, which aims to raise the percentage of women on boards to 20 percent by the year 2020.
In response, the company stated, “We do not have a diversity problem.”
Urban Outfitters did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment by The Tribune’s deadline.
Patricia Coulter, president and CEO of the Urban League of Philadelphia, said the organization has been unsuccessful in engaging Urban Outfitters executives around the issue of diversity.
“We’ve been trying to approach them on a level to say, ‘lets talk about this’ and we haven’t been able to get in the door,” said Coulter.
“For me it’s a matter of how can we have a dialogue with them to show them the benefits of diversity — because we know they’re about making money.”
Coulter said if Urban Outfitters engaged more people of color in its decision-making process, that could drive more business its way.
She also suggested that African-Americans start becoming more conscious about the types of companies they spend their money with.
Bilal Quayyum, executive director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, protested against Urban Outfitters when the retailer carried gun-shaped Christmas tree ornaments and “Stop Snitching” t-shirts.
At a time when there is a high rate of unemployment amongst young Black males in Philadelphia, Quayyum wonders about the diversity of the retailer’s local workforce.
“As a major corporation in the city Philadelphia, what is their workforce makeup and who are they doing business with? Are they contracting with minority businesses? That is what I’m more concerned with – not what they’ve done in the past,” Quayyum said.
“I think there’s no question that Urban Outfitters, along with many other institutions in town need to be encouraged to do a better job on diversity by including minorities and women in job opportunities, executive opportunities, board opportunities and in contract opportunities. I think there is a responsibility for (those) who are making these kind of awards to have as part of their criteria what people are doing in these areas of concern,” said Attorney George Burrell, a partner, business department, Kleinbard, Bell and Brecker LLP.
Burrell says leaders in the African American community, as well as business leaders, should encourage people like Hayes to be more sensitive to these issues.
Michael Pearson, CEO of Union Packaging, also expressed concern about Hayne being chosen as an award recipient.
Pearson said dialogue should have occurred with members of the minority community prior to the selection of Hayne as the Edward Powell Award recipient.
“I think that the concern, more or less, is that could we have had some dialogue before something like that transpires, so that it is not offensive to groups in this city,” said Pearson.
“My main push is that there be some level of sensitivity when parts of our community have felt underrepresented or ignored.”
Mayor Nutter commented on the matter through his spokesperson Mark McDonald.
“Dick Hayne is a good person, a caring person, and a business leader of a worldwide company based here in Philadelphia. The nature of the award is to recognize a business person who has done a lot in the community; and Dick Hayne and Urban Outfitters meet that test,” said Nutter.
“I’m particularly excited that he donated the financial component of the award to Drexel University to help some young people further their education.”
Urban Outfitters has also come under fire in recent years for carrying items that ignited ethnic and religious controversy.
Back in 2003, African American leaders protested and called for boycotts when the retailer carried the Ghettopoly game – a board game invented by David Chang, that drew on negative stereotypes of Blacks.
Last year, the Navajo Nation sent a cease and desist letter to the retailer, demanding that the company stop using the term “Navajo” for a line of products that include a flask and underwear.