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.
Many families turn to the American Red Cross, Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter in their time of need.
As new director of Recovery, American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter and the Red Cross House, Chad Dion Lassiter is positioned to help families cope after facing a disaster.
The West Philadelphia-based Red Cross House serves as a short-term recovery center for families displaced by disasters in the Greater Philadelphia region. The house, which is the only one of its kind in the country, offers 26 private family suites, children’s play areas, counseling services and caseworkers who create a personalized disaster recovery plan for each family. Families who stay at the house are typically impacted by disasters such as fires, hazardous chemical exposure, gas leaks, water main breaks, building collapses and natural occurrences that displace them from their homes. On average, clients stay at the house for approximately 21 days.
“My vision is to create a sense of normalcy in which families who are impacted by disaster still can still feel welcome, but they will know that this is a place that is inviting, that is going to help advocate for them and empower them,” Lassiter says of the Red Cross House.
“My vision is also to make it a place where people can come and learn about disaster recovery - and they can also see the wonderful work that we are doing.”
During his first three months on the job, Lassiter has focused on changing the aesthetics of the Red Cross House and implementing new programming for its residents. Under his direction, the house offers disaster therapy sessions for residents and a movie night where families come together and watch movies that address the importance of overcoming barriers. Plans are in the works to also offer free legal assistance to the families.
One of Lassiter’s first actions was to visit homes in the neighborhood where the Red Cross House is located and inform area residents about the facility’s offerings.
Lassiter is charged with overseeing 16 employees at the Red Cross House and the casework of thousands of disaster victims across Southeastern Pennsylvania.
For Lassiter, a typical workload includes conducting senior management meetings, interfacing with caseworkers, meeting with families, renters and realtors, and reviewing cases.
He is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania’s five-county region. When families check into the Red Cross House in the middle of the night or early in the morning during weekends, Lassiter is often on hand to greet them. In addition to his work at the Red Cross, Lassiter will continue teaching at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I am exceedingly proud to have Chad join our team,” said Renee Cardwell Hughes, CEO of the American Red Cross, Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter.
“When I met Chad I was absolutely bowled over by his vision and his complete understanding of the Red Cross mission and the fact that our objective with the Red Cross House in particular is geared toward uplifting families and returning families to a position of safety and feeling whole again after being devastated by disaster.”
Hughes is impressed with Lassiter’s decision to conduct outreach to the neighborhood where the Red Cross House is located.
“Chad has just wonderful clarity about the mission. I’m very excited about the future of his work in our community and the things that he brings. He has such strong relationships in the Philadelphia region that he brings great resources to us. For us it is a huge asset to have him,” Hughes added.
Throughout his career, which includes co-founding Black Men at Penn at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice, Lassiter has worked with vulnerable families, youth, and communities as they experience normal developmental transitions in challenging environments. His career has led him to Africa and Haiti, where he has worked on issues of race, peace and poverty.
For Lassiter, joining the Red Cross team was a natural fit.
“I bring extensive background and experience and the skill set and expertise that I think makes this a great fit because even though it’s disaster relief work, the work I’ve done at Black Men at Penn, the work I’ve done in the prisons, it’s still recovery. It’s recovery in a different way,” said Lassiter, who started his post with the Red Cross on Sept. 22.
“It was a continuation of the theme that I have continued to live by. This is a humanitarian organization that is about serving the needs of the people. If you look at its creed, they serve humanity, and that’s what I’m about, just serving humanity,” said Lassiter, who was drawn to the organization’s mission.
“When Martin Luther King said ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing to help others?’ I just wanted to help others in a different capacity. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with an amazing person, the CEO, Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes, as well as an amazing organization. People know the American Red Cross brand. You go anywhere in the world and when you see that red cross, you know what it is.”
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.”
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.”
When it comes to the public education of African-American youth, some would say too many of them aren’t in class enough to learn.
They are busy being suspended or even expelled at an alarming rate, which is enough to cause an outrage — but that outrage can only intensify when considering the disparity between administrative discipline meted out to non-minority students.
In a damning report released earlier this month, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights found that African-American male students are far more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their peers. The Civil Rights Data Collection report showed that African-American students made up 18 percent of its sample study, but of those 18 percent, 35 percent were suspended at least once, while another 39 percent were expelled. In the Philadelphia School District, the report found that African-American students make up 62 percent of the student population, but represented 78 percent of the students who were suspended; conversely, Caucasians make up 13 percent of the student population, and represent a relatively paltry seven percent of those suspended.
“African-American boys and girls have higher suspension rates than any of their peers,” the report concluded. “One in five African-American boys, and more than one in ten African-American girls received an out-of-school suspension.”
What is the cause of this disparity? One could take the numbers at face value and proclaim Black youth as unreachable, but veteran educators and officials see a much deeper cause.
“We continue to look at students of color in a pathological manner, by buying into a racial narrative born in white supremacy — that Black youth are angry and aggressive,” said Chad Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn, Inc., a social work think tank that confronts the issues and policies that effect the African-American community. “Then we treat them punitively with the zero-tolerance policies; it’s more along the line of criminalization, not education.”
Representatives of the School District of Philadelphia haven’t returned repeated requests for comment.
The report includes nationwide school data for the 2009–2010 year, the last year that has a complete data set.
“The power of the data is not only in the numbers themselves, but in the impact it can have when married to courage and the will to change,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise. It is our collective duty to change that.”
But how? Lassiter believes a change can only happen when the teaching methods are changed as well.
“I think the curriculum is not oftentimes culturally relevant, nor oftentimes culturally affirmative,” Lassiter said. “The teachers may be limiting students with the way they teach. We have to provide more cultural service assistance to these children.”
The report also found that only 29 percent of schools with a high-minority enrollment offered calculus, compared to 55 percent of the schools with the lowest minority attendance. It also found that teachers working in predominantly minority schools earn $2,251 less annually than teachers working in low-minority schools.
“We have the greatest salary disparity among high school teachers in the country, and these numbers are alarming and show discrimination between African-American, Latino and white students,” said Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Chairperson of City Council’s Education Committee. “From slavery until now, African Americans have been discriminated against, and it’s very sad that in 2012 children do not have equal access to education.”
Blackwell argued there were several mitigating circumstances that possibly skewer the numbers, echoing Lassiter’s assertion that teachers do not really engage the youth. Blackwell taught long before she came to City Council, and recalled that her instructor ordered her not to call on three African-American students in particular, because “they had Es already,” and that she was harassed and harangued for trying to reach them.
“We don’t have, unfortunately, the kind of commitment to education we need, despite all that’s been said,” Blackwell stated, noting that she will hold a meeting soon to discuss this very topic and other school-related matters. “Education is so controversial, because people without kids in school see all the negative behavior, but they’re not mimicking some other behavior; they are going by what they see.”
Despite a lagging economy, some of Philadelphia’s business, civic and community leaders have a positive outlook about what’s in store for 2012.
Urban Affairs Coalition Executive Director Sharmain Matlock Turner is cautiously optimistic about what lies ahead.
“I’m cautiously optimistic, I think by nature because I believe even in the toughest times, especially in the African-American and the poorest of the communities, we do try to figure out how to help each other and to make sure we are doing everything we can to try to supportive of each other,” Turner said.
“I guess what has me somewhat cautiously optimistic is at least the economists are calling for growth to continue, even though its going to be somewhat anemic at a two percent growth rate,” she said, noting that more than 100,000 U.S. jobs have been added per month.
Turner is very concerned about the rate of job loss in the public sector — an area that has traditionally employed high numbers of African Americans.
“The fact that we are still losing public sector jobs adds some additional pressure to really make sure that in the private sector that there is equal opportunity, that people aren’t being discriminated against and that they’re being paid a fair wage for fair work,” she said.
Employers expect to add new jobs in 2012 but are waiting to see how the economy shapes up before they ramp up their hiring, according to CareerBuilder’s annual job forecast.
Nearly one-in-four hiring managers plan to hire full-time, permanent employees in 2012, similar to 2011. Employment trends among small businesses, which account for the majority of job creation in the U.S., are expected to show some improvement over last year. The nationwide survey, which was conducted by Harris Interactive© from Nov. 9 to Dec. 5, 2011, included more than 3,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals across industries and company sizes.
“Historically, our surveys have shown that employers are more conservative in their predictions than actual hiring,” Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder said in release.
“Barring any major economic upsets, we expect 2012 to bring a better hiring picture than 2011, especially in the second half of the year. Many companies have been operating lean and have already pushed productivity limits. We’re likely to see gradual improvements in hiring across categories as companies respond to increased market demands.”
Mayor Michael Nutter expects Philadelphia to make progress during 2012.
“I am an optimist by nature, but I’m also a realist. Philadelphia has contended with a national recession, the after effects of which are still very much with us, but we’ve also experienced real progress in the last few years, a trend that I fully expect to continue in the coming year,” said Nutter.
“I expect to see more business coming to Philadelphia, more sustainable development in our neighborhoods, along the Delaware and at the Navy Yard, a growing population, more young Philadelphians graduating from high school and going to college and a police department working closely with neighborhoods to further reduce crime and make our streets safer.”
A. Bruce Crawley, president of Millennium 3 Management is hopeful that things will improve for the New Year.
“I think that change will come from inside our community, specifically, rather than from government and places that we have historically gone for support,” said Crawley.
“I think that our people are starting to understand that if they are going to have any kind of a more successful future, than there are going to have to get more engaged in addressing their own problems.”
“They’re not so content, I think, to wait for the powers that be to bring consolation. You’re starting to see that in local and state government elections and I think you’re going to start to see that in national government elections,” Crawley added.
“People around the world are starting to realize that the economy is so bad that the distribution of wealth has been so skewed, that they have to get engaged. I think that we’re going to see a reawakening in our country as a whole and specifically in the African-American community because I think that our people are starting to understand that unless they have a focus, unless they push for the things that they need from the bottom up, then we won’t get any satisfaction.”
Karen A. Lewis, Executive Director, Avenue of the Arts says she’s optimistic for the coming year.
“I’m definitely optimistic. I think there’s been a lot happening in the city despite the economy,” said Lewis.
“I think there were some good indicators towards the end of the year. I think that the retail sales and predictions were really good according to some of the analysts and when people are shopping that fuels the economy. Maybe I’m just one of those optimistic types of people but I do like to see the glass half-full.”
Chad Dion Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn, Inc. says he doesn’t feel pessimistic or optimistic about the New Year.
“I’m what you call a prisoner of truth, and the truth is we have some tough economic times ahead. We have a lot of challenges and hurdles that we have to overcome, but I fundamentally believe in the human spirit. I fundamentally believe in a better tomorrow,” said Lassiter.
“I see tough times ahead, but I think it will build character and teachable moments for what we must go through, in order to come out on the other side.”
The statistics show that African Americans continue to lag behind whites in every possible category.
In good times and bad, nothing seems to have changed for African Americans, which leaves one to ask, are the problems that African Americans face internal, external or self-made since the Civil Rights era of the 1950s, 60s and 70s?
“We must also admit that there is ethical erosion that tends to not be addressed by Blacks,” said Professor of Race Relations Chad Dion Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn. “Racism is not overt for me and the industry of racism can be seen within the public spaces of educational apartheid, the prison industrial complex, and economic oppression that continues to produce unemployment and underemployment to a rate in which Blacks continue to be the face in the bottom of a capitalistic well.”
As the booming economy of the 1990s drew to a close, Black poverty rates dropped to a record low of 23 percent. Black unemployment fell to a record low of 7.2 percent in September of 1999.
Even at its historic low of 7.2 percent, Black unemployment still was twice the unemployment level for whites. These numbers did not take into account the nearly one million Black men locked up in prison and jail, which, by some estimates would increase the overall unemployment level by two percentage points.
Moreover, since 2001, when the economy officially went into recession, official Black unemployment has drifted between 10 and 11 percent. An added result of the recession is that the drop in Black poverty rates, a result of the economic expansion of the 1990s, has been reversed and Black poverty is again on the rise. According to the Census Bureau, 24 percent of Blacks now live in poverty — up from 22 percent in 2001. Additionally, there was a 3 percent decrease in the Black median income.
"African Americans tend to be the last to be hired when the economy is booming. That means that they also tend to be the first to lose their jobs when a downturn hits," according to Stephanie Armour writing in USA Today in December 2002. She goes on to say: "job losses have been deep in manufacturing and construction, they have also hit retailers. Jobs in those industries tend to be disproportionately held by African Americans."
In July 2003, the New York Times reported that unemployment among Blacks is rising at a faster pace than in any similar period since the mid-1970s.
Two recent studies show, on a base level, the racist obstacles African American applicants face. The University of Chicago found that job applicants with "Black sounding" names — such as LaKisha or Jamal — were twice as likely not to be called back for an interview as applicants with "white sounding" names. Another study found that even white applicants with prison records were called back more frequently about jobs than African Americans with no prison record at all.
Unemployment today for young Black men aged 16 to 19 tops out at more than 30 percent; double that of young white men in the same age category.
A study recently conducted by Cornell University found that "nine out of 10 Black Americans, or 91 percent, who reach the age of 75 spend at least one of their adult years in poverty," compared to 52 percent of whites. The study goes on to say: "that by age 28, the Black population will have reached the cumulative level of lifetime poverty that the white population arrives at by age 75."
Access to health care is a major problem for African Americans. Twenty-three percent of African Americans have no health coverage at all. Poverty and a lack of health insurance mean that Blacks die on average six years younger than the rest of the population. And Black infant mortality rates are more than twice that for white babies. The same deadly mix has helped to produce an AIDS epidemic among African Americans. Today, Black women — only slightly more than 6 percent of the population — make up 68 percent of all new AIDS cases for women, and 63 percent of all new pediatric AIDS cases are of Black children. And the toll the criminal justice system has had on the lives of African Americans has been well documented.
Currently, while there are 603,000 Blacks enrolled in institutions of higher education, there are 757,000 who are locked up in federal and state prisons. Moreover, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics projects that 30 percent of Black boys who turn 12 this year will spend time in jail in their lifetime, if current incarceration rates stay constant.
Even those vestiges of racism that were supposed to have been wiped out by the civil rights struggle of the 1960s — namely segregation — have reappeared in America’s public school systems. Ironically though, the five most segregated cities in the U.S. today are in the North: Detroit, Milwaukee, New York City, Newark and Chicago.
The day before the national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in January 2003, the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University released a study showing that American schools are re-segregating. According to researchers at Harvard University, "The South went from being the most segregated region in the country to being the most integrated. ... Now the reverse is happening." But the study went on to point out that although re-segregation in the South was happening most rapidly, schools in the Northeast and on the West Coast are still more segregated. In fact, according to the study, the country’s most segregated schools are in New York City. This trend in schools was precipitated by court decisions weakening desegregation orders from the 1960s.
All of these numbers are underscored by the fact that, when it comes to making the laws that have an impact on the lives of African Americans, there is a woeful lack of representation. In the history of the U.S. Senate there have only been four Black senators.
This picture of racial injustice in the U.S. points to the systemic nature of racism. The degree of racial disparity and inequality are not just the result of ignorance or a lack of tolerance. The greatest proof of this is not just the conditions that exist today, but the deterioration of conditions for African Americans in the aftermath of the social justice struggles of the 1960s, which points to the institutionalization of racism.
The social movements of the 1960s pressured the U.S. government to devote more resources into fighting poverty and creating opportunities for African Americans’ access to higher education, and, as a result, Black poverty decreased. The Americans for Democratic Action explains in detail:
In 1960, before the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty, there were 39.9 million poor persons in the nation. During the mid-1960s the president and Congress adopted a series of programs directly geared to helping those caught in poverty. Those programs (plus a strong economy) succeeded in reducing the poverty ranks by 15.8 million — a reduction of 40 percent — to 24.1 million. As a result, the poverty rate (the percentage of poor in the total population) dropped dramatically from 22.2 percent to 12.1 percent.
If racism was caused just by ignorance and prejudice, then economic disparity between races should have ended in the 1960s. The civil rights and Black power struggles exposed racist injustice, the administration of Lyndon Johnson reacted and implemented the "war on poverty," and that should have been the end of the story. Instead, the disparity never disappeared, and began to grow again shortly thereafter.
According to The Washington Post, by the mid-1970s young college educated Blacks were earning the same amount as their white counterparts. There was no racial disparity.
Income growth of college-educated African Americans, after surging in the 1960s and into the mid-1970s, slowed nearly to a halt, while incomes of similarly well-educated whites increased substantially. The result, economists said, has been a widening earnings gap between the best and the brightest Blacks and whites, a fact of economic life in the 1990s that stands in stark contradiction to many popular assumptions about Black success. The survey reflected these disparities in relative Black and white earnings over the past 20 years. Nearly half — 45 percent — of all Black college graduates interviewed said their income had not kept up with the cost of living over the past five years. In contrast, 29 percent of all college-educated whites said their income hadn’t kept pace with inflation.
By the 21st century the economic gap, as measured by median income, has returned to the same level as at the end of the sixties. The economic advances of the civil rights and Black power movements have been virtually erased.
“Negative stereotypes for minorities continue to play a role in how they are perceived and treated in this society,” said Marla Baskerville, a professor of Organizational Behavior at Northeastern University. “The research is clear that even for those that have been fortunate enough to gain access to strong career opportunities still experience significant discrimination in the form of lower pay, exclusion from networks and over all difficulties for advancement. From those people of color in the poorest communities with the least access to opportunity to those who have fortunately gained some level of success, all are still experiencing discrimination that in the aggregate leads to the large and disproportionate set of outcomes for people of color.”
Zack Burgess is the enterprise writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com.
In support of The American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania’s (SEPA) Red Cross House, the Exelon Foundation, parent company to PECO, recently donated $500,000 to help its cause.
The Red Cross House—the center for disaster recovery—located at 4000 Powelton Ave., works to provide shelter to those who have been temporarily or permanently displaced from their home as a result of a disaster. Along with disaster relief, the SEPA chapter also provides community disaster education, first aid and CPR and HIV/AIDS prevention information to thousands of people across the region.
The SEPA chapter was charted in 1916 and serves nearly four million people of Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Bucks counties. It’s a humanitarian organization led by volunteers and guided by the principles of the International Red Cross movement. The representatives from the Red Cross House expressed a lot of gratitude for the donation.
Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes, CEO of American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania, felt the donation was not only generous—but sent a message to other corporations that PECO is in support of their cause.
“What Exelon and PECO has done for us has allowed for us to enhance the quality of services we provide,” Hughes said. “Their leadership means so much.”
In addition to financial contributions, the foundation also contributed to the enhancement of the building. PECO employees gathered at the Red Cross House to assist in updating one of the House’s two lounges, turning one lounge into a library and assembling and installing new furniture.
“We were looking for projects in Philadelphia and what we love about this project is, this isn’t just a program where someone comes in and gets assistance and moves on their way,” said Steve Solomon, Exelon Foundation president. “Families that have suffered a disaster of some kind can actually come together and stay together as a unit.”
The Red Cross House is available to families in need. As opposed to some shelter systems, families are able to stay together until they’re back on their feet. One resident of the house, Chenelle Brown, feels the Red Cross House has been a blessing to her and her family.
After waking up to a fire in her home at 1:30 a.m. one night, Brown was lucky she, her four children, mother and sister were able to escape the fire which was ignited from a neighbor’s house.
“It was only by the grace of God we escaped the fire,” Brown. “By the time that I got out, The American Red Cross was immediately there to assist—everyone was hysterical.”
Brown was touched by the warm welcome her family received at the Red Cross House. They met with a case manager upon arrival and were given guidance and assistance in what do next.
“People here were so selfless and encouraging to us,” Brown said. “They just did everything that they were supposed to do and they did it with a smile—they really make you feel comfortable at Red Cross.”
Brown and her family recently received the keys to their rebuilt home and are in the process of moving back in.
PECO has worked with The American Red Cross throughout the years and has had Denis O’Brien, PECO president, on The American Red Cross board for over six years. Judge Hughes felt their relationship was a “natural” one.
“PECO works with us on a daily basis.” Hughes said. “They are helping us many ways beyond the work with the house.”