We should all stand united in detesting the senseless murders of Philandro Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana whose only crimes were driving and being Black, and selling CD’s in front of a convenience store. Their death follows a familiar pattern of the unnecessary deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and so many more.
In the same manner we must raise our voice to detest the shooting of those in Dallas that resulted in the murders of the five Dallas police officers and the wounding of nine, as well as the two civilians wounded by the alleged gunman, Micah Johnson.
America is rapidly moving to be a society steeped in the tradition of answering social, economic or political problems with the rhetoric of psychological and physical violence. Or, ‘a la Donald Trump, scapegoating people of color or waging low intensity warfare on targeted populations. This tradition of American justice is all too familiar to most African Americans, people of color and poor people in our society.
To get beyond this sad state of existence will take moral courage, political willingness and sustainable economic and educational investments in our inner-city communities, where disinvested populations painfully fight for daily survival while sustaining family life.
The social conditions of inner cities and outer-ring suburban communities directly and profoundly contribute to the escalation of violence that is mainly aimed at the very people and communities that are in the bull’s-eye of the violence – not the police.
It is unfair for the corporate leaders and the leaders of the political machinery to place police officers in environments that have all the ingredients of becoming a racial powder-keg. These leaders must accept their share of responsibilities for the massive disinvestment of these communities through their investment decisions, or lack thereof, and the social chaos that it spawns.
Better Family Life (BFL) supports the efforts of police departments at reaching all elements of disinvested and marginalized communities through community policing, honest dialogues, forums and other constructive engagement activities. We also support the community’s efforts to remove insensitive police officers from the force who have a history of violating citizen rights.
We strongly believe that the St. Louis Civilian Police Review Board should not only have investigative powers, but also have subpoena power to enforce honest testimony from the police who are brought before them.
Recently we held a gun summit at the BFL Cultural Center to increase the positive exchange between the police and community in pursuit of finding common ground needed to end the cycle of violence underway in our city. By most measures the summit was successful, but the violence has not abated. These are steps in the right direction; however, more dialogue and understanding need to occur between young and older Black males and the police.
The lasting solution to stopping the physical violence must be the de-escalation of the sale of militarized weapons, the end of racial and economic violence on vulnerable populations and the abolition of poverty. Economic violence and systemic disinvestment in neighborhood schools and other essential services such as infrastructural improvements in poor communities, are pathways to the hopelessness that lead people to senseless violence.
One of the primary functions of Better Family Life is to restore hope in disinvested African American communities by helping reintegrate these populations into the mainstream of society. The police are on the frontline of this mainstream. This means we have a lot of work to do to establish and then maintain healthy relationships. But the relationships can’t be based on superiority and inferiority which has characterized past dealings between the police and the African American community. We must be equal partners to achieve our mutual goal of protecting lives, ensuring safety of residents and living in a civil society.
Essential to this goal is the critical need to make sweeping reforms in the criminal justice system where thousands of innocent African Americans rot away in jails or prisons, and thousands more are paralyzed by probation or who are under the supervision of the criminal justice system. This collective machinery entangles its victims in a systemic deplorable trap. Once exposed to this vicious system, many of them adopt the mentality of a predator, remain chronically unemployable or are unable to earn a respectable living.
Better Family Life is currently working on the Page Blvd. corridor redevelopment project. This initiative envisions the commercial and residential redevelopment of Page Blvd. from Kingshighway to Skinker. We are seeking 100 LRA residential properties from the city to convert to affordable housing for young millennials and others. We are calling on corporations and business leaders to invest in this community so that residents can have easy access to jobs. We want to place residents in workforce training programs at BFL, MOKAN, Ranken Technical College and SLATE that will provide them with the skills to rehab their own houses, and/or help build commercial structures in this community.
We will provide communities residents with civic training to increase community awareness and engagement activities. We will also help them gain access to service providers to meet their basic needs of maintaining a decent standard of living.
We also want to see the political, corporate and civic willingness to reinvest in neighborhood schools. Educational achievement is the bedrock of strong communities. Our neighborhood schools should offer meaningful curricula and remedial educational training that is needed to meet the 21st century demands of technology, healthcare, industry and services.
These are all realistic measures that will help stop this cycle of violence. They will help restore the dignity of disinvested African American populations. It is our belief that the work we have done over these past 33, years combined with our vision for the Page Corridor re-development, will ultimately bridge the many gaps between African Americans (especially young Black males) and the police.