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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