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A Push to Address Black-on-Black Violence

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Yusef Shakur (center) counseling a young man [Courtesy Photo]

Yusef Shakur (center) counseling a young man. (Nick Kozak)

By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As cities across the country have mobilized massive street protests over police violence and misconduct, a familiar question has been raised by their opponents: Why does violence within the Black community garner less concern than police violence?

According to crowd-sourced database, Mapping Police Violence, 304 Black people died at the hands of police last year, 101 of them unarmed. But Black offenders were responsible for 90 percent of the nearly 2,500 Black homicide victims in 2013, according to data compiled by the FBI. Between 2002 and 2011, the homicide rate was 6.3 times higher for Blacks than Whites.

Detroit-based community organizer, Yusef Shakur is on a personal mission to end the community violence he once perpetrated. By the age of 19, he had co-founded a gang and was given up to 15 years in prison, where he met his father for the first time. Through positive guidance from his father and a personal decision to do better, Shakur left prison determined to repay his debt directly to his community.

“Urban environments are like a dried-up lake; so people turn on each other out of survival. They don’t know what they’re doing is out of hatred and anger, they take it out on the person that’s next to them, because they don’t know how to take it out on the people downtown in the City Council building,” he says. “They don’t know how to articulate themselves…how to organize a boycott, so you take it out on other folks. Throw in drugs, lack of education, guns all those things are a recipe for genocide.”

Shakur’s organization, Restoring the Neighbor Back to the Hood, seeks to rebuild a sense of community in the “Zone 8” section of Detroit through back-to-school bag giveaways, block parties, survival kits for indigent residents and families, and one-on-one mentorship. Fourteen years after his release, he is an award-winning organizer and remains embedded in his neighborhood as a positive influence, particularly on those who commit the crimes that have made Detroit infamous.

To him, the victims of these crimes are just as important as those slain at the hands of racist authority figures.

“When any [deaths] happen, there’s outrage. We know tons of people who get killed but the media doesn’t talk about it,” Shakur says. “There are folks who do candlelight vigils, folks crying on the floor and things, but there’s no media coverage. But if it’s a high-profile situation, that brings Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, then we see the outrage.”

Many of the stories that have become major headlines and have fueled national protests began as local efforts. Trayvon Martin’s murder, for example, only became a major media story after relentless social media campaigning and Sanford, Florida’s “Justice for Trayvon” protests spread across the country – and it still took 44 days of action to secure George Zimmerman’s arrest.

It was Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal that sparked the Black Lives Matter organization.

“The local is the national. There’s no way that there would be a national conversation about state violence if local residents in Ferguson and St. Louis didn’t take to the streets,” said Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the nationwide Black Lives Matter activist network, which began in 2012. “The other piece is, there’s lots of Black people, for the last 40 years, who have been figuring [out] how do we deal with harm inside of our communities.”

While the death toll of “Black-on-Black crime” is distressing, it is worth noting that most crime happens within communities and races. White offenders were responsible for 83 percent of White victims in 2013, and Latino offenders were responsible for 74 percent of Latino victims.

Cullors said that the tug-of-war between community violence and state violence is among the most common criticisms Black Lives Matter receives.

“The focal point is state violence, but that is not the end-all be-all. When myself, Alicia Garza, [and] Opal Tometi created Black Lives Matter, it was never just to talk about law enforcement or vigilantes. It was actually about a broader conversation about anti-Black racism and the impact in our communities,” she explained. “It’s about broadening what state violence means. If someone is homeless…if people in the community aren’t able to have jobs, that’s state violence.”

Shakur lives and works in the crosshairs between state and community violence. Sometimes, he uses the respect he’s earned in his neighborhood by inserting himself to break up fights and conflicts. But he’s also seen a police officer roll up to a group of young boys and hop out of the car to say, “I can’t wait to put you in prison.”

He believes that community violence and police/state violence are different issues that share a link as effects of White supremacy.

“Folks are not using a historical context. When Trayvon Martin gets killed or Michael Brown, et cetera, it reminds you of Emmett Till. It reminds you of your grandfather getting lynched. It reminds you of the reality of being Black in America,” he said. “But the work has to be twofold. It has to be 30 percent police, 70 percent on us. We have to do the work internally to restore interpersonal relationships. If we clean up what we have to clean up, it makes it easier for us to organize against the police, because the police are going to do what they’re going to do.”

Each of the Black Lives Matter co-founders is also a grassroots community organizer.

Cullors is a founding board member of Dignity and Power Now, a Los Angeles-based grassroots group working to empower incarcerated people, their families, and their communities. Alicia Garza has been involved in several grassroots groups across the Bay Area, including People Organized to Win Employment Rights, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, where she has held leadership roles. Opal Tometi is executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, a New York-based Black advocacy group.

Cullors believes that community violence is largely a reflection of state violence, both literal and in the form of oppression. For this reason, the two issues, though separate, are not at odds.

“Much of the harm happening in our communities has a lot to do with the trauma of living in a racist, capitalist country. The trauma of not having a job, the trauma of not being able to feed your own children. The trauma of being abandoned at a young age because your family are drug users, the trauma of being in the foster system,” Cullors said.

She added, “Let’s actually deal with the root causes of that trauma. The fight around intra-community violence is a fight about not only the state…but our conversation – it looks like an internal conversation – is about what do we do to take care of ourselves. Where are the spaces that we fight for our communities to have what they need so we don’t harm each other? ‘Black Lives Matter’ means a new way of fighting for freedom.”

Commentary

Biden, Vax Americana, and What the Recall Could Mean in COVID-19 Wars

Masking works. You can see it working. Vaccines work too, but we’re on the honor system for that. And people lie or show a fake vax cards. 

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COVID/Photo Courtesy of Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire 

At Oakland’s Stagebridge, I taught a class this year. One of my students couldn’t make the final. The student had COVID.

I don’t know if the student was vaccinated or whether this was a breakthrough case. But the fact remains, the COVID war must be our No. 1 priority—no matter how many people you see on TV at football games and sporting events unmasked. 

Masking works. You can see it working. Vaccines work too, but we’re on the honor system for that. And people lie or show a fake vax cards. 

This is why President Joe Biden’s speech last week, what I call his “Vax Americana” speech was so much more important than people want to admit.

It was his first get tough moment. And it reminded me of the phrase, “Pax Americana,” from post-World War II in 1945 to describe how the U.S. used its dominance to bring peace and prosperity to the world. 

After months of “nice,” Biden was a little less nice ordering federal workers to get vaxed, and OSHA to lean on employers with 100 workers to mandate vaccinations.

But all you need to remember from the speech was the last line, when Biden in a hushed, aggressive whisper said, “Get vaccinated.” 

What are you waiting for—a death bed conversion? 

It’s time to get serious about public health, about caring for our country and each other. 

We can end the war on COVID if we all do our part, masked and vaxed. 

I wonder if Biden knows about a non-profit in Stockton called Little Manila Rising

“Someone Pulled a Gun” 

You know what guns do to a situation. In the COVID wars, the anti-vaxers are insane. 

One of the handful of Filipino American canvassers for Little Manila Rising going door to door to provide the public with good information, got a rude greeting from an anti-vaxer.

“A gun!” said Amy Portello-Nelson, the head of the Get-Out-The-Vaccine drive in Stockton. The canvassers are armed only with information. No one was hurt, but you see how dangerous fighting COVID can be when you’re armed only with facts. 

Here’s what Little Manila Rising’s done in two months on the job. It has knocked on more than 32,000 doors and had 20,000 conversations. The area they’ve worked has gone from a vaccination rate of 32% to more than 50%. 

Talking to people and telling them to get vax works. It’s how we’re going to get back to normal. It’s going to take a “Vax Americana” effort.

The Recall

Of course, whatever happens with this gubernatorial recall will determine how quickly the state gets to the 70%-80% rate that gives us an effective herd immunity. 

My deadline is before any official recall results. And even then, mail-in ballots with a September 16 postmark will take time to be counted. 

The talk of voter fraud is greatly exaggerated. There’s more rhetorical fraud than anything else. 

With more than 8 million ballots in already, unless there’s a strange crossover vote, the Democrats should continue in power. 

But let’s say the recall succeeds and a person with the most votes among 46 also-rans becomes the new governor, it would not bode well for the state.

The Black conservative Larry Elder was leading among those who want to replace Governor Gavin Newsom.

Elder is an anti-vaxxer and has espoused views indicating that – under his leadership– California would look a lot more like Alabama, Texas, Louisiana and Florida on the COVID map. 

That would be the real monumental tragedy for California and for Vax Americana. 

Let’s face it, the political virus unleashed by the Republicans on our democracy is worse than COVID. 

The recall effort needs to die a natural death this week.

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Bay Area

Sept. 11, 2001, 20 years later: ‘Remembrance’ held aboard the USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum

The USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum, moored at the City of Alameda, hosted a “Remembrance” ceremony of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on board the ship on the 20th anniversary, Sept. 11, 2021.

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U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard, 23rd Marine Regiment: Sgt. Tristan Garivay, Sgt. Michael Her, Cpl. Adrian Chavez and Cpl. Quentavious Leeks. Photo by Russell Moore, USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum, Community Events & Outreach

Quintin Jones, Colonel, USMC, Commanding Officer, 23rd Marine Regiment. Photo by Russell Moore, USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum, Community Events & Outreach

The USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum, moored at the City of Alameda, hosted a “Remembrance” ceremony of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on board the ship on the 20th anniversary, Sept. 11, 2021.

The ceremony recognized the impact and consequences of the series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks committed on 2001 by 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Queda against targets in New York City and Wash., D.C. Nearly 3,000 people died that day and 6,000 were injured.  This was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil in U.S. history. 

The ceremony aboard the USS Hornet began with the presentation of the colors by the U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard, 23rd Marine Regiment. (Pictured above.)

Leon Watkins, co-founder of The Walking Ghosts of Black History, was the Master of Ceremonies. He spoke about the extensive death and destruction which triggered the enormous U.S. effort to combat terrorism.

Daniel Costin, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, spoke of the lasting impact of 9/11 terrorists attack on first responders. He recounted incidents where first responders rushed into the scenes of the attacks, many at the sacrifice of their own lives. More than 400 police officers and firefighters were killed that day: 343 members of the New York City Fire Department and 71 members of their law enforcement agencies.

Quintin Jones, Colonel, USMC, commanding officer of the 23rd Marine Regiment, spoke about the recovery efforts at the Pentagon following the terrorists’ attack where 125 people perished. He reflected on the actions of three first responders who recovered the U.S. Marine Corps flag from the commandant of the Marine Corps’ office at the Pentagon. This flag was still standing after the attack. It was a symbol of America’s resolve.

At the end of the formal presentations, the Marine Corps Wreath Bearers went to the fantail of the Hornet. After the playing of ‘Taps,’ they tossed a wreath into the San Francisco Bay to give final honors.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Community

Many in Black Communities are Choosing Vaccination 

Inequities in health outcomes have always been with us. COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates among African Americans rival or exceed those in heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. Blacks sit atop most bad lists and at the bottom of most good lists. 

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Vaccination/Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

The trail of illness and death left amid the spread of COVID-19 in Black and African American communities should come as no surprise.

Inequities in health outcomes have always been with us. COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates among African Americans rival or exceed those in heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. Blacks sit atop most bad lists and at the bottom of most good lists.

COVID-19 vaccinations offer us an opportunity to better balance the scale.

Unfortunately, even with widely available testing, highly effective vaccines, and extraordinary efforts by health departments to educate and encourage people of color to get vaccinated, many Black Californians remain skeptical.

We can only hope that the FDA’s full regulatory approval of the Pfizer vaccine on August 23 for those 16 and up convinces more to get the vaccine.  It’s worth noting that emergency-use authorization also remains in place for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots, as well as Pfizer’s for 12- to 15-year-olds – and that all of these vaccines are safe and effective in protecting against COVID-19 and its highly contagious variants.

Eddie Fairchild and Steph Sanders were skeptical about the COVID-19 vaccine but came to understand why vaccination benefits our entire community.

Fairchild, a Sacramento insurance agent, said he knew of research that found Black and white people are often treated differently for the same health conditions leading to poorer health outcomes.

“I was hesitant,” he said. “I was going to wait and see how it panned out with everyone else.

But when a Black friend in the health care field told him he’d opted to get vaccinated, Fairchild asked him why.

“He said, ‘Risk-reward, and the risk is death.’ At that point I didn’t have to ask him what the reward was.”

With a finance degree and a belief that numbers don’t lie, Fairchild looked at the data. He learned that until 2020 the average number of Americans who died each year was about 2.6 million, but in 2020 that figure was 3.4 million. There was only one possible explanation for the death rate surge, he said.

“COVID is absolutely real,” he said, adding that three of his cousins died from the virus. “Taking all that into consideration, I decided that it’s risky to engage in the world and not be vaccinated. It made sense for me to get it.”

Racial gaps in vaccination have thankfully narrowed in recent weeks. But as of September 1, while Black people account for 6% of the state’s population, they account for 6.6% of COVID-19 deaths, which is 11% higher than the statewide rate, according to state department of public health data. Only about 55% of Black people in California have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Reasons for the discrepancies run the gamut, from conspiracy theories like Black people are getting a less effective vaccine than whites or that the vaccine will eventually be deadly, to challenges in health care access. 

Mostly, it’s based on a lack of trust in medical and scientific institutions, which have a long history of racism and mistreating Black people.

So even when it comes to good things like vaccines, which are scientifically proven to be good for the community, it always comes back to trust.

Sanders, a Vallejo school principal, was hesitant because of the Tuskegee syphilis studies in which Black men who had the disease were intentionally not treated with penicillin. And he was dubious that an effective vaccine could be developed so quickly. 

In fact, the science and technology enabling development of the COVID-19 vaccines was in development for a more than decade before the virus emerged in 2020. The FDA authorized three vaccines for emergency use after they underwent a rigorous process and were proven through trials to be safe and effective at preventing severe COVID-19, hospitalization, and death.

He decided to get vaccinated when his school board decided last spring to bring students back into classrooms.

Today, he’s a fervent vaccine advocate. He holds “lunch and learn” forums for educators, encouraging vaccination.

“I’m a leader and people are relying on my knowledge,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t make this about you, but about the people you love and care about. It’s about protecting them.’”

There is still a long way to go before Blacks achieve true health equity, but vaccination against a virus that is taking a terrible toll on our communities is a critical step in the right direction.

 

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