When Adam Lanza blasted round after round of high velocity bullets into the 26 victims at the Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, his demented actions touched off a national outrage and a call for stricter gun laws.
What was unexpected was the overwhelming number of Americans — not only on the grassroots level, but federal, state and local lawmakers — stepping up to have their voices heard. Included in that number are those who have noted that the national outrage was sparked by the deaths of mostly white children — not the almost daily shooting deaths of hundreds of young Black and Hispanic men, women and children from coast to coast.
“Those are the victims whose voices have gone unheard,” said Bilal Qayyum, Executive Director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee. “Everyone is understandably angry and heartbroken over the mass murders at the Sandy Hook School, but since it happened, ten people were shot in Chicago. I think the timing to push for this will never be better. Let white America push through these laws, because God works in mysterious ways — and maybe the murders in Newtown, Connecticut are a message to white America that gun violence is not a Black American problem, but an American problem. It’s often said that when white America gets a cold, Black America gets pneumonia. White America has pneumonia now, but all of America will benefit from these senseless deaths in the form of stronger gun laws.”
Qayyum said the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords wasn’t enough; or the hundreds of courageous police officers, or the hundreds of young Black males who are gunned down in America’s cities everyday, or even the Black mothers and children caught in thugs’ crossfire. Mass shootings in movie theatres or shopping malls or college campuses or even high schools wasn’t enough bloodshed to produce the national outrage to spur the American people to finally say enough — the gun violence is going to stop.
Lanza, 20, who killed himself after murdering his mother, Nancy, and then 26 children and adults inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School, used a semiautomatic .223 caliber assault rifle to kill his victims. Investigators said he carried several high-capacity clips for the military-grade weapon. Police also recovered a shotgun and two handguns at the scene.
Since the mass murders, federal, state and local lawmakers have seized the opportunity to not just talk about what has been termed “common sense gun laws,” but to do so with a sense of urgency, knowing that serious action has to be taken. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has promised to introduce a bill to reauthorize the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, a President Bill Clinton era legislation that was allowed to lapse in 2004.
Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW, president of Black Men at Penn, said that despite the continuing rising body count of Blacks and Hispanics due to gun violence; the inclusion of those deaths into the call for sensible gun laws didn’t register because it brings to the forefront issues about which America is not ready to have a meaningful discussion.
“Our nation prides itself on creating narratives or dialogs that are safe. The dialog of Black males being shot to death calls America to the carpet about white supremacy and racism and the way people of color have been treated in this nation. That’s a narrative America is not comfortable with,” Lassiter said. “Now, you take the massacres at Columbine, or Aurora and there is a ready dialog over the mental health issues of the white males who committed these crimes. But what about the mental health issues of Black males who have been abandoned by their fathers, or who suffered abuse and neglect while growing up and lack the coping skills needed to step beyond pulling out a gun to solve their problems? Those lives aren’t seen in the same light.”
Lawmakers have called for three major gun laws to be pushed to the front of the ongoing talks over the issue. A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, the need to strengthen the national background checking system and eliminate the loopholes, and enforcing stiffer penalties for straw purchasers. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama gave his administration a January deadline to create solid proposals to reduce gun violence. Tasking Vice President Joe Biden, who has long championed the cause for stronger gun laws, the president has ordered the creation of a special panel to spearhead the effort. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey will be a part of that panel.
Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes, who spent thirteen years on the bench trying murder cases, said she thinks Obama’s decision to have Ramsey on the panel is a brilliant move. Hughes, who is now CEO of the American Red Cross of Southeastern PA, spoke to the Tribune in her capacity as a former judge with the Court of Common Pleas, and a law professor who teaches at Drexel University and Villanova Law School.
“I think putting Commissioner Ramsey on the panel is a brilliant decision by President Obama and I am so grateful that he’s taking decisive action on this,” said Hughes who was appointed to the bench in 1995. “I have witnessed the devastation caused by assault weapons. I’ve seen the devastation caused by people who lack good judgment and use firearms to resolve conflicts. I founded Philadelphia’s Mental Health Court and I know the senselessness of gun violence. This is not about the right to bear arms, but the right of Americans to be safe — to not be afraid of people with mental health issues or other emotional issues with guns. I’ve seen what happens when our police officers are slaughtered and people are murdered because we did not have the backbone to stand up and say we do not need these weapons on our streets.”
Victim count stands at 310 for the year
Philadelphia passed a tragic threshold over the past weekend, when the number of homicides in the city climbed to 310, and most of the victims were African Americans.
Yet, despite the fact that one of the victims was a five-year old boy, despite the fact that over the years several of the murder victims were innocent bystanders — some advocates lament that there seems to be no collective outrage from the African-American community over the loss of so many lives, many of whom were in their teens and early twenties.
Statistics show and court documents confirm that almost all of the murderers have a history of arrests and incarcerations, as do many of the victims. Statistics also bear out the fact that with very few exceptions, the shooters are using illegally obtained firearms. There is also evidence indicating a strong connection between the high rate of public school dropouts and crime. Yet again, beyond the candlelight vigils held by grieving family members, there is a deafening silence in the Black community over the violence and the social factors driving it, say social activists.
Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW, president of Black Men at Penn, Inc. said there is no real outrage because there has been decades of moral erosion, a decline in the Black family, and a lack of community commitment.
“People see or hear about the violence and shake their heads and say ‘Well, there they go again.’” Lassiter said. “Why is there no real outrage about it? We’ve lost our moral compass and we’ve become desensitized to the point where we’ve become immobilized. We need a resurgence of real leadership because I think many of our leaders are frustrated by their inability to push forward any policies that would have a significant impact. We’re looking at decades and decades of moral decline, white supremacy, under-employment and unemployment and the demise of the [Black] family. Many of our leaders are simply running out of answers.”
Recently, with the re-election of Barack Obama as president, Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, sent a letter to the White House calling for federal action on some of those ills facing the Black community — and crime and violence was on that list. Discussion of the rising rate of crime and violence in the Black community was absent from both parties during the election campaigns.
“The scourge of gun violence cries out for a comprehensive new approach to community safety and crime reduction,” said Morial, in his letter to President Obama. “This requires stronger enforcement of existing gun laws, re-enactment of the assault weapons ban, and a thoughtful examination of criminal justice system disparities which have created an exploding prison population at great expense to the taxpayers at both the state and federal level.”
Over the last few days there has been a spike of deadly violence in the city. On December 4, an argument and a fistfight at the Police Athletic League Center at 58th and Master Streets turned into a fatal shooting outside the facility. A basketball game was about to commence inside the center when two men, believed to be in their late teens to early 20s, became involved in a verbal disagreement that quickly escalated into a physical confrontation. Police broke up the fight and escorted the young men from the building. Once outside, gunfire erupted, a 19-year old was shot multiple times and police quickly arrested his killer. The victim was rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where he was pronounced dead a short time later.
A 4-year-old boy was shot and critically wounded Monday when a still unidentified gunman fired into the minivan being driven by the victim’s father. According to investigators, the father was leaving their home at the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Wilson Park project in the 2700 block of Daly Terrace. At around 7:20 p.m. the unidentified gunman started shooting into the vehicle, striking the 30-year old father and his son. A 9-year old girl was also in the van, but she was unharmed. The father was struck in the back and suffered a graze wound to the head and his son was shot in the stomach.
As of Tribune press time the father is listed in stable condition at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. His son is listed in critical but stable condition at Children’s Hospital. So far, no arrests have been made and investigators believe the shooting was in retaliation to an earlier shooting this month.
On Friday, Nov. 23, a 25-year old woman was caught in the crossfire of a post-Thanksgiving gun battle near the 2000 block of Dennie Street. Johnika Tiggett was struck in the head by a stray bullet following a bar fight that escalated to deadly violence. Tiggett had left her family’s home around 1:30 a.m. when four young Black males began shooting at each other outside Buffy’s, a local bar. Tiggett was rushed to Temple University Hospital where she was pronounced dead.
Arrested in the case are Byron McDonald, 19, from the 3100 block of North 25th Street, Anthony Palmer, 33, from the 5100 block of Reno Street, Roland Thompson, 36, from the 2400 block of West Toronto Street and Rashon Wiggins, 24, from the 1800 block of West Juniata Street. All have been charged with murder, illegal weapons offenses and related charges. Another suspect, Terrell Antwon, 23, from the 4400 block of North Cleveland Street remains at large and court documents show Antwon has a lengthy history of criminal behavior.
“These [same] guys get locked up over and over and over again,” said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey in an earlier interview. “And they get released — as if they’re going to be any different once on the street. At some point in time we’ve got to recognize that some people don’t need to be among us and they need to be locked up. We need to put them in jail and keep them in jail, period.”
Bilal Qayyum, executive director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, said he thinks there is no real outcry because people simply don’t know what they can do. He also said he wonders if the political will exists to really institute policies that would have an impact.
“Part of the problem is that no one is really talking about this. You see some limited coverage on one or two of the television stations, and there’s running coverage in one of the local newspapers. But the numbers of homicides are going up, along with the number of non-fatal shootings, and there’s no discussion about this on the community level. I think it’s because people don’t really know how to respond. And more women are being shot. Now events like marches and protests do help raise the consciousness about this problem, but they don’t stop the killing and that might be fine with some people — but it should not be acceptable to us. What I would like to see is a local public works project — and this should be done on the national level. When someone gets out of prison, yes, there needs to be programs like R.I.S.E. because these ex-offenders need skills training and mentoring for other issues. But when the training and mentoring is finished, if there’s no job that pays a living wage at the end, all the training is useless. Does the political will exist to make this happen? That’s the real question, isn’t it?”
Bilal Qayyum has made a career of trying to defuse the senseless bloodshed on city streets that every year snuffs out the lives of Black men across Philadelphia. On a rainy Thursday, on the steps of the School District of Philadelphia, he added a new weapon in his fight.
Qayyum, representing the Fathers’ Day Rally Committee, last week lent his support to the city teachers, many of whom have been laid off and are looking for work following the budget cuts that drastically reduced their numbers. The rally, which brought together representatives of the N.A.A.C.P, The Fathers’ Day Rally Committee, Parents United for Public Education and a few other organizations wanting to show teachers some love.
The afternoon rally drew about 50 people.
“We wanted to make the statement that we support teachers and the hard work that they do,” Qayyum said. “They are beaten up nationally and locally. When you look at the things that happened here this summer — the SRC (School Reform Commission), Arlene Ackerman — all of the things that have happened but the test scores continue to go up. That says a lot about the teachers and the parents of the children.”
A number of other speakers joined the rally, including Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan. Jordan addressed the crowd just hours before his union — 15,000 strong — approved a one-year contract extension later that evening.
“This is really great to have partners across the city that support teachers,” Jordan said. “We have a job of producing great kids that will turn into great leaders for our city in the future; it is an incredible challenge.”
Jordan will be happy to hear that Qayyum intends to focus much of his energy moving forward advocating education and those charged with passing it on to the city’s students. Qayyum said that much of the violence in the city is the result of poverty. Poverty, Qayyum says, is the result of children not being educated.
This leads to a vicious cycle that so often victimizes African-American boys in particular.
“The mayor and the police commissioner can put as many police officers on the streets as possible but it’s not going to change the problem,” Qayyum said. “As long as we are producing men that aren’t sufficiently educated, they are going to continue to turn violence. Education is the only thing that will prevent this from happening.”
Qayyum mirrored the opinion of acting superintendent Leroy Nunery. Earlier this week in an editorial board meeting with the Tribune, Nunery said that it is important for teachers and students to become more digitally proficient.
“We have to bring attention to the fact that education is no longer about just reading, writing and arithmetic,” Qayyum said. “Kids have to receive the proper education that prepares them to be successful in the future.”
The focus of Philadelphia’s Minority Development Week Conference will be on business establishment and growth.
Held under the theme “Inspired to Achieve” MED Week kicks off with an invitation only breakfast October 5 at 9 a.m. at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch Street.
On October 6, attendees can tap into a full day of workshops held at the Convention Center. The free sessions include topics such as the Philadelphia Zoning Code’s impact on the business community, franchising opportunities, launching a business at the Philadelphia International Airport, opportunities for community-based and diversity suppliers and marketing your business or non-profit for corporate relationships.
MED Week co-founder Bilal Qayyum says the lack of strong economic development occurring nationally shows the importance of MED Week.
“In Philadelphia, when we talk about 50 percent or more of African-American males being jobless, we have to create our own businesses to hire our folks,” says Qayyum.
“MED Week is a great opportunity to stimulate and start the dialogue about how we need to be pushing to have more Black-owned businesses in the city of Philadelphia.”
“Even though we are in hard economic times — that should not deter folks in the Black community from starting their own businesses. In fact this is actually a good time because you have a lot of talented people who have been laid off, that have skills that could generate (starting) businesses,” he said.
A conference highlight includes the 27th annual Philadelphia MED Week Awards Reception held October 7 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Convention Center Ballroom.
Awardees include Kenneth Gamble, founder and chairman of Universal Companies; Bilal A. Qayyum, MED Week Awardee; Stephen Yau and Andrew Lam, Square on Square Restaurant, Retail Awardees; Dr. Keith Leaphart, Replica Creative and Charlie Humphrey, Global Arena, Personal and Professional Services Awardees; An H. Truong, Greendog Recycling Inc.; and Brandon Davis and Kriston Johnson, American Dreaming Magazine.
The awardees reception features a keynote address by Randal Pinkett, scholar, author, chairman and CEO, BCT Partners.
Since 1983, the U.S. President has proclaimed a National MED (Minority Enterprise Development) Week observance to recognize the outstanding achievements of Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) and to honor those corporations and financial institutions that support minority business development.
The Philadelphia MED Week celebration was started in 1984 to honor and promote minority-owned business in the Philadelphia area.
For information, visit www.phillymedweek.com.
Mayor’s commission focuses on education, jobs
It’s impossible to say how many families in the Black community — and that’s just in Philadelphia alone — have been affected by the senseless violence that has a tight grip on African-American young people.
As of Tribune press time, the number of homicides in Philadelphia has climbed to 323, higher than last year’s total of 304 and significantly higher than the 2009 total of 298 when there was a noticeable decline. And the problem of this violence isn’t just endemic in Philadelphia — it is a national problem, with national consequences. The violence and the consequential fallout of incarceration and unemployment have depleted the presence of Black men in the community, said Mayor Michael Nutter at a recent meeting of mayors from across the country.
“This is an epidemic that’s been going on too long,” Nutter said. “And unfortunately, you will find African-American males at the bottom of good categories and at the top of negative categories, all of which contribute to a degradation of the overall quality of life in Black neighborhoods.”
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. Across the nation, the major cause of death among the age group 10 to 24 is violence — and that violence is grounded in a sense of hopelessness, desperation and despair. It is also rooted in a potent subculture that glorifies murder and views incarceration as a rite of manhood.
“I’ll give Mayor Nutter credit for taking these issues seriously,” said Bilal Qayyum, executive director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee. “He’s been speaking out publicly, and he’s using his position as vice president of the United States Conference of Mayors to make this a national issue. His administration has engaged in a crime fighting strategy that initially saw a decline in the homicide rate and continuing reductions in other violent crimes. Nutter has also committed the School District to increase the school graduation rate and to double college attendance. So, yes, they’re doing some things right.”
Recently, Nutter re-established the Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males. The group will eventually be composed of about 30 volunteer members tasked with addressing unemployment, incarceration, the lack of education and health issues among Black men.
Qayyum said he sees the major issues that need to be addressed as joblessness, poor education, what he referred to as a de-emphasis on education, increasing poverty and a serious loss of moral and cultural values among many African Americans.
“About 50 percent of the Black males in this city are jobless, and based on the current economic conditions, I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” Qayyum said. “When you’ve got no job and little chance of getting one, you lose hope and act in desperation. As of right now, Philadelphia has become number one in terms of poverty.”
According to a recent report released by the city controller’s office, Philadelphia’s poverty rate of 25 percent outpaces that of the nation’s largest cities. Philadelphia’s poverty rate is higher than those of Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and New York. Detroit, which is half the size of Philadelphia, is higher, at 36.4 percent.
In terms of crime and violence, a snapshot of data from the Philadelphia police Department illustrates the depth of the problem. For just the first six months — January to June 2011 — young Black males, between the ages of 18 to 25 were at the top of the list of homicide victims and perpetrators. According to those statistics, in 2010, 122 Black males were murdered, as opposed to only 21 white males. In 2011, that number rose to 134, with only one white male added to their numbers. In 2010, 60 Black males between the ages of 18 to 25 were murdered and 61 in 2011.
“I was on-line looking at some reports on violence in our community recently. Now some websites you can’t trust of course, but the reports I was looking at were written in the 1970s and the issues then are still with us today — lack of jobs, poor education and poverty,” Qayyum said. “And there is a prevalent lack of a relationship to our values, our culture. When people understand who they are historically, they have a different perspective. Without that perspective, those values, you see the kinds of behavior we just recently saw with people fighting over pairs of Air Jordans. I think the mayor and the police commissioner are doing the best they can. But they can’t predict where the next crime is going to happen or change the minds of the people involved. Looking ahead to 2012, I would say they need to put more resources where the problems are. After doing their analyses and reports, concentrate their forces in those areas. And figure out how to increase jobs. Traditionally, when the economy is bad, Philadelphia lags behind. That hasn’t really been the case this time, we managed to maintain. But if we’re really going to turn things around we have to increase job creation and encourage people to start their own businesses. We have the reports, we’ve seen the statistics and we know what the problems are. We just have to roll up our sleeves. It’s not rocket science.”
Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder of Mothers in Charge said much more community involvement is needed, along with more support for the families of murder victims.
“There’s not nearly enough support for these families and the emotional hardships they go through,” she said. “In terms of lowering the number of homicides I think that Commissioner Ramsey is doing the best that he can, but I would like to see the department engage the community more. I mean, the numbers of shootings are rising and so are the number of homicides — these crimes aren’t down. People are still reluctant to talk to the police, and if they really want to get in front of this issue they need the community. People need to know they’re going to get the full support of law enforcement.”
The idiom “Live and Let Live” is an old one — and used to convey the idea that warring factions forego violence — you’re going to let me live, and I’m going to let you live.
In Philadelphia, where since the start of 2012, 88 people have been murdered, mostly young Black and Latino males, that phrase is the name of an anti-violence campaign that founders and supporters hope will ignite a deeper sense of the importance of life — and of having a future.
Bilal Qayyum, executive director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, Will Little who heads Poetree-N-Motion Inc. and Tyrone Werts with the Inside-Out Center spoke with Tribune editors and reporters about a coalition of community groups who have started the latest campaign to try and change the perspective of the target population — young Black males. Called Live and Let Live: Promoting Peace Through the Eradication of the Culture of Violence,” the year-long effort began in March with highly visible billboards and lawn signs, posters, handouts and a lot more.
Changing the bleak, nightmarish homicide statistics has been the ongoing 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.
And that slogan has taken on a new dimension with the national outrage over the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida.
“Near the end of the year I saw the numbers of homicides were rising and I knew 2012 was going to be a bad year,” said Qayyum. “I was already having conversations with Anthony Murphy from Town Watch and several others about coming up with a different approach to this problem. Many of our young Black men don’t even expect to be alive past their twenties — and sadly, as the statistics show, many of them won’t be. But that perspective can and must change. This is a theme campaign and it’s very simple — live and let live. A lot of young folks 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 now where they’re 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 also work to end the violence; House of Umoja, Town Watch Integrated Services, Public Safety Net, Every Murder is Real and the Lifer’s 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 effort and we’re pushing the theme. Congressman Bob Brady’s office donated towards the billboards, Back to Basics, the organization that works in the Latino community, is on board with this as well as the Asian and Latino 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 public service announcements. At the end of the year, we’ll assess what we’ve done, and see how successful this was. Violence is a culture that crosses racial lines.”
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.
“With Poetree-N-Motion, we’re right on the same level with these young brothers,” said Little. “When I’m going to the schools or speaking with formerly incarcerated people we’re talking about Live and Let Live, and hope they carry that message back to their friends. My wish is to have more and more mentoring workshops across Philadelphia. Death or prison doesn’t have to be the only path for our young men.”
Little grew up in a single parent home with his four sisters in Philadelphia. Like too many young Black men, his father was absent from his life, and eventually Little dropped out of high school in 10th grade. He became involved in the drug trade and other illegal activities. His decisions landed him in prison for ten years at age 19. Now he works to steer his peers in a more productive direction.
“My interest is the young brother who is walking around with a gun in his pocket,” said Tyrone Werts. Werts, who was also incarcerated and now handles public relations for the Inside-Out Center at Temple University. He said he believes only someone who lived the street life can reach the young men who are out there.
“A lot of people are doing good intervention work, but I’m focused on the man carrying a gun, the hard core brothers who are the toughest to crack,” Werts said. “We have to pull in guys who were in that culture, who used to live that way to reach these younger brothers — and do it on their level in a way no one else can. It’s interesting that there are young men like Will, who see their responsibility and want to make a change in their community, but don’t know where to start. They’re really grabbing hold of this. We want the hardcore guys to grab this message — just think for a moment, don’t react — just think about it. Live and let live.”
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.”
A coalition of community organizations, that have been involved in anti-violence efforts in the city for years, have developed a new campaign that is simple but powerful.
The campaign is called Live and Let Live, as in: you’re going to let me live, and I’m going to let you live.
Instead of telling Black men, the most likely victims and perpetrators of much of the violence in the city, to stop using words like “Stop the Violence,” the slogan “Live and Let Live” is the title of a positive campaign that tells people what they should be doing.
A lot of young folks, they don’t know if they are going to live beyond their 20s. Particularly young, African-American males, said Bilal Qayyum, executive director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee Inc., one of the many organizations involved in the new anti-violence coalition.
“But we’re hearing different conversations out there on the streets now where they’re 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.”
The Father’s Day Rally Committee has teamed up with other community groups who also work to end the violence: House of Umoja, Town Watch Integrated Services, Public Safety Net, Every Murder is Real and the Lifers’ Public Safety Initiative.
Organizers hope the new campaign’s focus will help men reflect on the importance of life and their future as the answer to countering violence.
The mission statement for the Live and Let Live campaign is “focused towards coordinating, engaging and promoting activities to help eradicate the culture of violence throughout Philadelphia.”
The campaign seeks the help of faith leaders “to promote life in their services,” neighborhood mentoring, more family time and encouraging “young men to make a different decision and live and let live.”
The coalition is seeking to spread the new positive message through various ways including school plays, public service announcements, billboards, posters, T-shirts and presentations at meeting and recreation centers.
Wil Little, director of Poetree-N-Motion, said using the arts such as poetry and plays is a good way to get the message across to young men to choose life over violence.
Little, who coined the Live and Let Live slogan, said many young men have to be shown how to resolve conflicts peacefully instead of resorting to violence.
The Live and Let Live campaign is a good effort to promote peace and counter the culture of violence in a city in which 88 people have been murdered since the start of 2012.
For more information on the “Live and Let Live” campaign visit www.liveandletlivephilly.org or call (215) 236-3372.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden unveiled his administration’s gun law reform proposals on Wednesday, a list of 23 Executive Orders that will face the sharply divided House of Representatives and United States Senate and has drawn visceral criticism from those Americans who see any hint of new gun laws as a threat to their Second Amendment rights.
The 23 Executive Orders include universal background checks on all firearm purchasers, issuing a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations and improving incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
“I believe most gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale. And yet, that doesn’t mean any of this is going to be easy to enact or implement. If it were, we’d already have universal background checks. The ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines never would have been allowed to expire,” the president said during a White House press conference on Wednesday. “This will be difficult. There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty — not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves. And behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any common-sense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever.”
The National Rifle Association, whose leadership was invited to participate in the discussions on the Obama administration’s proposals, issued a statement that said ultimately only law-abiding gun owners would be affected by sweeping changes in the nation’s gun laws.
“Throughout its history, the National Rifle Association has led efforts to promote safety and responsible gun ownership. Keeping our children and society safe remains our top priority. The NRA will continue to focus on keeping our children safe and securing our schools, fixing our broken mental health system and prosecuting violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law. We look forward to working with Congress on a bi-partisan basis to find real solutions to protecting America's most valuable asset — our children.
Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”
Republican Congressman Steve Stockman of Texas said Obama’s actions were an attack on the Constitution and a violation of his presidential oath of office.
“I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary, including but not limited to eliminating funding for implementation, defunding the White House, and even filing articles of impeachment,” Stockman said in a Tuesday press release. “The president’s actions are an existential threat to this nation. The right of the people to keep and bear arms is what has kept this nation free and secure for over 200 years. The very purpose of the Second Amendment is to stop the government from disallowing people the means to defend themselves against tyranny. Any proposal to abuse executive power and infringe upon gun rights must be repelled with the stiffest legislative force possible.”
Support for the president’s action came from gun control advocates, community leaders and elected officials from across the country. Mayor Michael Nutter, who has been pushing for stricter gun control in Pennsylvania, said Obama’s plan would help reduce gun violence on the streets of America’s cities.
“Today President Obama and Vice President Biden unveiled a comprehensive set of concrete proposals that will help us reduce the gun violence that occurs every day in our cities and to prevent mass shootings like the one that occurred just over one month ago in Newtown, Connecticut,” Nutter said. “We called on the President to exercise his powers through Executive Order and on Congress to introduce and pass legislation to make reasonable changes in our gun laws and regulations. Specifically, we called for universal background checks, a ban on both assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and strengthening the penalties for straw purchases of guns. Clearly the President listened to our call.”
Democratic Congressman Bob Brady said he supported the president’s decision.
“How much more bloodshed are we willing to tolerate? There is no need for assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips to be a part of the American civilian stockpile,” said Brady in a press release. “I wholeheartedly support a ban on assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips and I also support universal background checks for all those lining up to buy weapons of what should be termed weapons of mass destruction.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, another supporter of the Obama Administration’s proposals, said he was not only pleased but it was long overdue for the federal government to begin addressing the issue of gun violence.
“I think the president laid out a very comprehensive and serious plan to begin dealing with this,” Fattah said. “I am in full support and it’s high time the federal government did something about the gun violence. I also think these proposals are going to have an impact on the deadly violence we see displayed on the streets of our cities as we go after illegal guns and have universal background checks.”
Bilal Qayyum, executive director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee also said he applauded Obama for taking this huge step forward in reforming the nation’s gun control laws. When asked if the proposals would have an impact on the deadly violence on the streets, he said they would in the long term.
“I’m excited that the president has done this,” Qayyum said. “I saw a poll this morning that showed 80 percent of Americans support stricter gun control laws which indicates that rural America is coming together with urban America on this. I’m glad he came out on this the way he did – now will it get past the Senate and the House of Representatives is another story. I think that even if the universal background checks are approved it will have a long term affect on the violence we see on the streets. The reality is there are too many illegal firearms already on the streets already but hey - every step forward on this helps. The biggest challenge is how do we get some people to begin to value life; to value their own and someone else’s, to see that they do have worth. That’s the challenge.”
If 48 other states around America have found a way to relinquish total control over the sales of wine and liquor why is there such a ruckus in Pennsylvania on the issue of privatizing liquor sales, wondered Shalimar Blakely, executive director of the Philadelphia African-American Chamber of Commerce.
Ending state control of the sale of liquor and wine in Pennsylvania — inclusive of closing the 600 ‘state stores’ is a major item on the legislative agenda of Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, who feels the time is long since past to “put our liquor system into private hands.”
In March the Republican controlled State Legislature passed a liquor privatization measure that is now in the State Senate for consideration.
If privatization is approved in the legislature and signed by Corbett, who is awaiting such a measure, Pennsylvania will end its dubious distinction of being one of only two states in the U.S. to retain total control over the retail sales of liquor and wine. Pennsylvania and 17 other states retain some form of control over liquor and wine sales. State government in West Virginia, for example, is the wholesale distributor of distilled spirits but not wine and malt beverages.
“I plan to do further research into why privatization is working in 48 other states and how it can work in Pennsylvania,” Blakely said, adding she plans to poll the Chamber’s membership on the issue.
When members of the Pa. Legislative Black Caucus discussed privatization of liquor sales during a meeting earlier this year, “no member voiced support” for the controversial issue, PLBC Executive Director Brandon Flood said. All PLBC House members present for that March vote in the House approving privatization voted against it, Flood said.
PLBC members have two principal concerns with privatization, Flood said: (1) increased accessibility of liquor through increases in retail sales outlets in areas that don’t need more liquor availability; and, (2) the impact on jobs now held by state workers employed by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, the state agency in charge of wholesale and retail liquor sales and liquor law regulation.
While a finalized privatization plan is not in place as yet, proposals call for replacing the 600 state stores with at least 1,200 new private liquor sale stores statewide plus allowing the sale of liquor and wines in existing supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies like Rite-Aid, big-box stores and beer distributors that purchase proper licenses.
Proposals also call for eliminating 3,200 of the PLCB jobs in retail (state stores) and wholesale operations. One study on privatization conducted for Pa’s Office of the Budget stated “separation costs” related to just unemployment compensation and paid leave involving the furloughed PLCB workers “will be significant.”
That study released in October 2011 estimated $68.2-million in just unemployment compensation payments between 2014 and 2017 for the 2,302 PLCB workers anticipated to seek unemployment compensation due to difficulties with obtaining other employment.
“Governor Corbett promised [PLBC] workers first crack at jobs in government and private stores,” PLCB Director Flood said. “However, this governor has established a track record of reneging on pledges.”
That state Budget Office privatization study noted that state government hiring freezes and other budgetary restrictions are “key challenges to placing a significant” number of furloughed PLCB employees in other state government slots. Compounding those challenges is the fact that opportunities for possible state government job slots for PLCB workers are better in the Philadelphia/Pittsburgh/Harrisburg areas with significantly less options available in rural counties, that study stated.
Gov. Corbett and his supporters of privatization inside and outside of state government argue that increasing the number of outlets selling liquor will translate into increases in employment opportunities for furloughed PLCB workers and other job seekers.
That rosy picture of more jobs is dimmed by findings in that state study detailing how the salaries now earned by PLCB state store workers will not be matched in privately owned stores. For example, a PLCB cashier earns $31,200 yearly, while private sector cashiers working in New Jersey earn $20,070 and $21,070 in Maryland.
“Private sector retailers, on average, are not likely to provide comparable salary and benefits to those that the PLCB employees receive,” stated that “Liquor Privatization Analysis.”
The issue of liquor privatization ignites supporters and opponents.
The Pa. Manufacturers Associations favors privatization while Mothers Against Drunk Driving opposes it. The Commonwealth Foundation supports privatization citing such PLCB ‘boondoggles’ as creating its own private label wine using wines bottled in California not Pennsylvania. The head of Pa.’s Fraternal Order of Police opposes privatization, telling state legislators in testimony that privatization will spawned higher crime rates and drain police resources, a contention disputed by the head of the Pa. State Police.
PLCB revenue to state coffers, averaging hundreds of millions annually, funds the Pa. State Police $20-million yearly cost for enforcement of the state’s liquor laws that include monitoring compliance in 20,000 establishments currently with liquor licenses like bars and restaurants. Under privatization state government would have to find enforcement revenue elsewhere, like from privatization licensing and renewal fees.
Privatization supporters said costs for alcoholic beverages will decrease, selections will increase and the Pa. residents going to out-of-state to buy will lessen. Yet, such claims are disputed. When the state of Washington privatized a few years ago prices increased 10-20 percent and selection decreased in many stores. While Pa. residents crossing-borders to purchase liquor may decrease in NJ or Ohio, Delaware still has an advantage with no state sales tax.
Bilal Qayyum, president of the anti-violence Father’s Day Rally Committee, said his key concern with privatization is controlling the volume of liquor in communities already reeling with problems of joblessness and poverty.
“The current system is not perfect but now there is more control over sales. We remember what happened with those Stop-&-Go’s selling beer to teens,” Qayyum said. “Look at casinos. Those businesses were supposed to be windfalls to cities and that hasn’t happened.”
Qayyum, a former economic development official for Philadelphia city government, raised a little discussed issue: economic/ownership opportunities for minorities under privatization.
“If privatization goes through, what are the opportunities for minorities?” Qayyum said. “Are we going to be locked out of this also?”
While powerful entities and prominent individuals wrangled over privatization, the general public places that issue in low priority status according to a recent poll by the respected Franklin & Marshall College Poll.
The poll, released May 8, found Pennsylvania residents placed privatizing liquor next to the bottom of 11 priorities, far behind improving the state’s economy, creating new jobs and improving public schools. Further, that poll found public support for privatization slipping since the beginning of 2013.
Gov. Corbett announced that he wants to direct revenue from the sale of wholesale and retail liquor operations to increased funding for public schools statewide. But major cuts to K-12 education made by Corbett during the past two years has placed many public school systems in a financial tailspin, like in Philadelphia which will close 23 schools and perhaps enact deep cuts in educational services to reduce a massive budget deficit.
State Senator Vincent Hughes, Democratic Chair of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, supports increased government funding of public education but notes the Corbett’s liquor privatization funding is a one-time deal not sustained, states Hughes’ spokesman Ben Waxman.
“With privatization the state loses control of ensuring full collection of all sales and other taxes involving liquor store sales. This is not a problem with state stores,” Waxman said.
“I have not seen a credible study stating that privatization will lead to higher revenue and taxes for the state.”