Saturday, September 15, 2007
Philly's police chief asks 10,000 Black men for help

The city's embattled police chief, [Sylvester Johnson] acknowledging that police alone cannot quell a run of deadly violence [294 homicides so far], has called on 10,000 black men to patrol the streets to reduce crime. He wants each volunteer to pledge to work three hours a day for at least 90 days.

"It's time for African-American men to stand up," Johnson told the Philadelphia Daily News. "We have an obligation to protect our women, our children and our elderly. We're going to put men on the street. We're going to train them in conflict resolution."
read full story

I am in love with this idea. For the longest time I have been telling anyone who will listen, that we (black men in particular) can solve most of the problems in our community on our own. I am basing my life on this premise and it is part of the reason I played a part in forming Rebel Life (more on that later). Unfortunately, although I love the idea, iI have a great many problems with how it is manifesting itself in Philly.

1. Wrong Person
Philly's chief of police, black though he may be, is not going to have the political capital with young black men to pull this type of thing off. He's asking black men to come out and volunteer to put themselves in harms way, to help their community. This is dangerous work, it doesn't pay, and the chief of police is making the request. You'd have to a) care about your community AND b) you would have to like or respect the person making the request in order to volunteer. There isn't enough of a and I would assume even less of b to make this work. I'm not from Philly and don't know this guy's history in the community, but I know black men, and I know our relationship with the police, so unless something really special is going on there (other than their 80's era murder rate and fascination with bad hairstyles) I'd say hes not the dude for this. He could be a part of something like this, but, IMO, him spearheading this seems like it hurts the idea more than helps it.

2. Wrong approach to crime.
While I think a group of trained black men could put a serious dent in crime (and in the heads of some of these knuckleheads) this is not the solution to crime and the chief of police ought to (and probably does) know it. Crime in our community has a long history, and so do limited job opportunities, poor schools, bad living conditions, and an overall feeling of hopelessness; this is not a coincidence. You cant hope to heal these problems in a real way without even attempting to deal with the social conditions that created them. Get brothers some access to jobs that pay a decent wage, and improve the educational system and you will see the crime numbers fall dramatically. Any approach that comes from a govt administrator that doesn't involve something along those lines, is either misinformed or disingenuous.

3. Volunteer?!?!

Unemployment among young black men is always higher than in any other group in the country. This unemployment is a huge part of why the murder rate is so high! These brothers aren't killing each other over gets to take off from work on Labor day. These guys already don't have jobs and are operating within the underground economy where violence is a preferred method of conflict resolution.

So, color me crazy, but this is how I’m seeing this:
There is a demographic whose chronic unemployment leads them into chronic involvement in crime, which leads into violence and murder reminiscent of #9 on The Chronic. And the chief of police asks them to volunteer in the streets, to help end the violence which is a byproduct of the economic crimes that stem from unemployment. He must be smoking chronic (I couldnt resistone more chronic reference).

I’ve got a better idea, why doesn’t he volunteer to be the chief of police, and donate his salary to a group of people who will lobby the city gov’t and local businesses to create 10,000 jobs for black men in the city of Philly. I say that joking (kind of) but he really should be trying to get brothers some jobs instead of asking them to do a job for free that requires, a gun, a bulletproof vest, and walkie talkie access to other people with guns and bullet proof vests. Oh, and a starting salary of $39k!!!

4. Who could pull this off?

Not the chief of police of Philly. Not the chief of police anywhere. If Farrakhan asked for something like this within a few years of the million man march, brothers would have signed up. Tupac could have pulled something off like this before he was killed. In fact, if they both had gotten together, they could have started a very powerful, nationwide movement. But that was then, and that oppurtunity is lost. Now, I am hard pressed to think of anyone who could make this call in a large city and actually get thousands of black men to come out. Jesse Jackson can’t do it, Al Sharpton can’t do it, no one can really do it on a national level or in New York (which is where I'm thinkng about it).

For the average black man, there probably is not enough incentive (money, prestige) to want to risk your life over a concept as abstract as community must be nowadays. Having said that, my circle is not average and we are already excited to do this kind of work, but find it is hard to attract the numbers we need to really make an impact. I think Hip Hop has the potential to change those attitudes, and I think I can be the driving force behind that. Time will tell.

-Kai. Rebel Life

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Sunday, September 9, 2007
Choosing our battles wisely

In case you havent heard, the US govt has decided to create a memorial to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Mall in D.C. The monument will be placed in betweeen Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln's memorial.

Yeah, its kind of a big deal in one sense and kind of not in another, but thats not the point. The black firm in charge of designing it, chose a Chinese sculptor to do the work . And just for clarity, when I say Chinese, I mean from China, not a Chinese-American.
So as the story goes, there is a black artist leading the protest/ppetition to have a black sculptor sculpt kDr. King's likeness. Fuck crime, poverty, healthcare, and the educational system, WE WANT A BLACK SCULPTOR FOR THE MLK MEMORIAL DAMMIT!! But jokes aside, that is kinda how this whole thing seems to me: silly, ridiculous and ironic all at the same time.

To his credit, the brother calling for the protest/petition makes one really good point which is:
the granite to be used on the scultpure will come from China, which underpays its works (read: slave labor) and has them do this work in a way which is very harmful to their health (read: they die). I havent researched this independantly, but if what he alleges is true, he has a point that something is amiss. However, in this instance, the problem can easily be remedied by changing the company they get the granite from.

Let me also add that I think it would be appropriate, though not essential, for the monument to be sculpted by a black sculptor. I would think there are black sculptors lined up to do this project for little or even no money, because they would see it as an honor to do a project of this magnitude, that holds such historic and cultural significance to them.

This situation reminds me of Spike Lee and the making of Malcom X. Initially he read that a film about Malcolm X had been green lighted and was going into production. Norm Jewison (a Jewish director who tastefully directed a film about the black experience previously: A soldiers story) was given the role of director for that film. Spike said he was like whoa ho ho, hold up! He basically said said:
I'm not saying a white person cant be the director of a film about Malcolm X, but he'd have to be pretty sensitive to accurately capture his life in its proper light.
I agreed wholeheartedly with that sentiment, and think his film project, as a work of art, needed a black hand directing it much much more than this sculpture piece does. Any great sculptor CAN do a wonderful piece on MLK. I wouldn't say any great director can do accurately do a film about a highly controversial Black historical figure.

I'd like to also say that I like when our community is able to come together around any issue that even remotely has to do with community control, or taking control of our representations in mass media. But as I recently told my cousin who was up in arms about a 15% tip being included in his $22 meal as a matter of store policy for ALL meals, "you are fighting the wrong fight brother."

Taking control of our community, could mean something major for ourselves, this country, and other oppressed people all around the world. Taking control over how we are represented in popular media could be a critical part of that. Making sure a black sculptor does the MLK monument is not an essential part of anything that is going to affect our community. IN fact, in my opinion, insuring that a black sculptor does the MLK monument is like making sure, Obama has a black makeup and hair stylist if he becomes the president. Its meaningless, its figurative and symbolic, and thats really the only reason the govt is doing a memorial like this instead of something substantive like uh, I dont know..REPERATIONS!!!

Taking control over how we are represented could be done quite simply by placing some very real pressure on black people who are in posiitons that wield that power. In hip hop music, we have more black decision makers who are in on every aspect of the buisiness side than ever before, yet we have worse music, less variety, and more harmful images being transmitted to an even broader audience.

In response to that, too often we take action by placing pressure on big corporate bosses, like warner brothers, universal, Arista, et al, who dont give 2 shits about our demands or our concerns. Most of the people who buy the records are white, so boycotts from our community do not hurt them financially. Why not aim our sites at people who cannot afford to dismiss us, people whose credibility and support are priceless in hip hop? Why not challenge Jay-Z, Diddy, Jermaine Dupree, Irv Gotti, et al to promote 1) better music, and a wider variety of artists? These are people who cannot ignore the demands of black people. There simply arent enough young black and Latino people who are willing to apply pressure to their own. We can blame the gov't for allowing the drug trade to flourish, but we cant challenge our childhood friends who stubbornly chooses to sell drugs in our community without having even considered another option.

Which brings to me to a new rule, Bill Mahr Style:

If the thing we are fighting for doesnt leave our community substantively improved once it is achieved, we dont need to fight for it period. When we fight for trivial things like the color of the sculptor of MLK, not only do we make ourselves appear more fractured and weak, we become parties to our own oppression by diverting our resources away from where they are truly needed. We have a pretty long list of things that we must fight for to improve our communities and our experience in this country. This monument thing, however, is not on that list. Someone send this brother the memo.

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