Revolution #105, October 21, 2007
Philly: 10,000 Snitches for Police Brutality Solves What?
We received the following correspondence.
I am writing this from Philadelphia, where something backward and wrong is about to go down, beginning October 21, that needs to be opposed.
A “Call” has been issued by a number of Black groups and individuals for 10,000 Black men to patrol and help deter crime and violence in some of the city’s poor Black neighborhoods. The plan is for these “peacekeepers” to work closely with the police.
There is no question that crime and violence are major problems in many of Philly’s Black communities, especially among Black youth. A recent Philadelphia Inquirer article said that from 1998 through 2006, 2,883 people were murdered in Philadelphia, 85% of them Blacks killed by other Blacks and almost half under the age of 34. So far this year, 315 people, overwhelmingly Black youth, have been killed. The local media have designated Philadelphia “the murder capital” of the country. And the “Call for 10,000 Black men” is being promoted as the Black community’s response to this.
This initiative is spearheaded by the Philadelphia Millions More Movement, along with Black entertainment moguls Kenny Gamble and Charles “Charlie Mack” Alston, Rodney Mohammed of the Nation of Islam, E. Steven Collins of Clear Channel One radio, Jerry Mondesire of the NAACP, Mark Burrell of Men United, plus some 100 community organizations. (Their website is www.10000menphilly.com.)
Under the initiative, the unarmed “peacekeepers” will be trained in “conflict resolution” and serve as “mentors” to the youth. The police, meanwhile, will identify the Black communities and areas to be patrolled, and the cops will accompany the patrols. Police Commissioner Johnson has praised the initiative and said that he recently attended a conference of police chiefs who expressed strong interest in Philadelphia’s 10,000-men effort. This obviously makes him happy, but it shouldn’t make any right-thinking person happy at all.
Why? Because this “Call for 10,000 Black men” is nothing but a recipe for bringing down further disaster on oppressed Black people. It is based on the notion, propagated by those like Bill Cosby (who is a Philadelphian), that Black people themselves are to blame for their oppression; that the break-up of Black families causes Black-on-Black crime; that the absence of strong Black fathers and role models has caused Black youth to become “street thugs,” killing each other over nonsense. (And the patriarchal nature of this “Call” should be noted—it’s 10,000 Black MEN.)
But this is false. The root cause of the crime and violence in these communities is the capitalist-imperialist system, which was founded and then developed on the backs of slaves and cannot survive today without the continued super-exploitation and oppression of Black people and other national minorities. It is this system that deprives the majority of Black people of decent jobs or any work at all, deprives them of decent education, health care and housing. And in order to try and keep Black people down when they grow angry and rebellious in the face of these horrible conditions, it is this system that sends in its armed occupiers, its police forces.
What does it say about this system that, since 1998, ninety people, most of them Black youth, have been killed by Philadelphia cops? Sixty-six of these killings have occurred in the past five years, and 34 in the past two years alone. And these are the police we are supposed to cooperate with and become human shields for as they do what they are supposed to do—act as the enforcers of this system that has always held Black folks down? The cops who, in 1985 (let’s not forget about this!) presided over the savage murder of 11 members of the Black MOVE group, including six children, by dropping a bomb on their house and then letting the entire neighborhood burn to the ground?
As I walked around the Black North Philly neighborhood last week, an older Black man spoke with bitterness. “Look, this is nothing more than a big snitch network. It won’t work because it doesn’t address the causes of crime and violence. You have young people out here who have nothing and fear nothing ‘cause they see no hope for the future. They see friends and family members go to school, graduate and try to make it and still get harassed or worse by the police. I used to think maybe if we just had more Black people in office things could get better. So I voted for Wilson Goode for mayor. And what did we get? Housing? Jobs? Community programs to help working families? No, we got the murder of 11 MOVE people and the burning down of a whole neighborhood.”
Philadelphia used to be the fourth-largest city in the country. But since the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, huge population shifts have occurred. This has been mostly due to the devastating loss of industries and jobs in the city, as companies have pulled out, seeking to lower costs, including labor costs. Steel and auto factories accounted for the loss of roughly 100,000 jobs when they closed down, better-paying jobs that many Black people had been able to get. This has caused people, mainly Black people, to move from Philadelphia in search of work or to take much lower-paying jobs in nearby communities. And Black youth caught in the city’s ghettos have been especially hard hit, in most cases not able to find any work at all.
A 22-year-old Black woman who opposed the “Call” told me she had spent two years in jail: “In prison I got hooked up with some education courses and when I got out last year I decided to go to school. But they are also disbanding some of these jail programs. It’s like they don’t care. They just want you to rot in there and then when you do get out there’s no hope for a job. If you tell the truth while being interviewed about being in jail, you don’t get hired. And if you lie on the job application and they find out, you get fired. It’s almost as if they want you to be a criminal.”
A number of people I spoke with in North Philly supported the “Call” because they desperately want the Black-on-Black killings and violence to stop. While the desire to bring an end to this crime and violence is understandable, people need to be struggled with to see that if you are working with the police, whose role—whatever their nationality—is to be the enforcers of this system and the conditions it has created and maintained, and to brutalize the masses regularly as part of doing this, then, whatever your intentions, objectively you are working against the interests of the people and are actually helping the oppressors and contributing to the perpetuation of the system that is the very problem in the first place.
What about the bad things the youth are doing to others and themselves? The anger that explodes in people doing things against each other under this system needs to be channeled against the real oppressor.
What is urgently needed in this situation is not things like the “Call for 10,000 Black men,” but the development of a revolutionary movement and a revolutionary movement of women and men who militantly resist all the ways this system comes down on people and who strive to bring about a much better world. A world where the creativity and energy of youth can be unleashed and given flight, rather than locked down and crushed.
A Black youth in North Philly, hanging out on a stoop with some of his buddies, was quiet for most of the back-and-forth conversation. He was reading the Jena 6 article in a recent issue of Revolution. But as I was about to leave he spoke up. “I took off school that Wednesday when the students at Temple University held their protest march down Broad Street in support of the Jena 6, and I joined the march. It was the first time I felt like there was something important to be doing. They talk about our crime, violence and murder, yet they never talk about their crime and the murder, violence and injustice that my people have faced. If your revolution will change this, then I’m with it.”
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