Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Airick Leonard West recently conducted a 3 day session on leadership to deter bullying at one of the local KCMSD schools. He worked with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders at one school to change the dynamics of the pecking order and improve communications and options when faced with an escalating situation.
But as the CNN piece suggests, when kids come from poor neighborhoods where there is no strong future of prosperity, where adults are not modeling supportive behavior, and where survival is a daily concern, we can expect that kids will do whatever they are inclined to believe they have to do. They may be making incorrect assumptions, based on a perspective from outside their environment. But from the inside, to them, it seems reasonable, plausible, and defensible. You play be the rules of the environment in which you live. If you do not go beyond the boundaries of that place, if you are challenged when you do go beyond those boundaries, if you are unwelcome outside those boundaries, then you will continue to live by the rules of your boundaries.
Then check out this other CNN story about a teacher that cuts off the braid of a 6 year old girl in front of the class because she kept twirling it. The teacher appologized later and said she was "frustrated." The school declined to take the teacher out of the classroom. Those are rules of an environment in which these kids are learning to engage.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I have an acquaintance on FaceBook that posted an op-ed piece written by the President of Rockhurst University in Kansas City detailing his response to the tragic killing that took place just oustside the campus at 54th and Troost. A 17 year old kid got off a city bus and was shot to death. He was black and he had a college application in his pocket. The piece details that the head of Rockhurst now has a picture of this young man on his desk to remind him every day of the senseless tragedy. He goes on to state, "We will not rest on rhetoric around this tragedy but rather will choose to make a difference by calling our neighbors, faculty, staff, alumni and friends to work with us to find solutions to end these senseless tragedies."
I juxtapose these two stories of young people of color in the inner city to try to wrestle with my own reactions to the events and to others' comments. The last time I criticized white do-gooders I got an earful from Dan Ryan at Gone Mild. Today I commented on the FaceBook posting about Rockhurst and was basically told I was a cynic.
It's easy to be sympathetic to the young man gunned down in KC. He was doing everything he could to bring himself up - applying to college, etc. Apparently he was just a victim of circumstance. The good Rev. Curran of Rockhurst is displaying his sympathy openly and unequivocally. To be sure, Rockhurst U. is community minded, a good neighbor on Troost for the most part, and does not have its institutional head in the sand. So bravo for getting involved. But it is a fairly low risk strategy for a low risk victim - nice kid who wanted to go to college, not a 'hood rat.
It is hard to be sympathetic to a young woman of color in a movie who was a victim of circumstance in her own home and was an illiterate, obese, mother of 2 at 16. Apparently the movie is about her struggle to get beyond her circumstances, with the exception of getting beyond her obesity as the commenters note. One of those posts was honest and said, would I have felt more sorry for her if she were thinner and lighter? Apparently for some of the viewers it was too risky to be all in for this character and they hedged their sympathy for one reason or another.
Young people in urban places are victims every day of violence that finds them or lives with them. Every day. Not just the ones in movies and not just the college-bound bootstrappers. Kids of every kind in urban places are victims every day. Some of those kids are perpetrators and it goes down badly for them. Some of those kids are victims of circumstance at the wrong place at the wrong time. Some of those kids are held in a spider web of violence from which they can't escape and some see the exit door but have no clue as to how to walk through it. There are more than enough kids in trouble to rally our attention. We don't need to wait for a movie to create a cause celebre. We don't need to wait for a "good kid" to get gunned down to move us to action.
For the Precious's out there, they are to pull themselves up and take advantage of the help that's waiting for them. For the Nelson's out there who have taken that help and want to go to college, they will get the President of a University to carry their torch.
If these kids are the bookends of the spectrum, then what about all the kids inbetween? What do we do as institutions, as people, as neighbors, as teachers to answer the needs of these kids? What are we doing to help them put the guns down, get an education, and get a job? What are we doing to overcome the unlevel playing field that Rev. Curran identifies as an obstacle? Calling a meeting to find solutions is a start, but not an end.
I honestly believe that action is necessary and that most of us are free riders. We wait for someone else to "do something" or we do something that is essentially low risk to demonstrate our commitment. KC has 480,000 people. The majority of them have never set foot anywhere near the locus of urban problems because that would be risky. You can't be empathetic, raise money, and volunteer, while keeping everything at arms length. But neither does sitting foursquare in the midst of the inner city entitle you to say you are doing something except being there. I look at this situation and feel absolutely impotent. I don't know how not to be a free rider and I don't know what to do to prevent the next Precious or to make it safe for the next Nelson. I volunteer, I advocate, I am engaged, and yet it makes so little difference in the grand scheme of things. I can help 10 kids or a 100 kids, but there are millions that are at risk.
I have helped to shape this country by being a citizen. And I have helped to shape a system that is way out of balance and allows conditions to exist that create a Precious or a Nelson and all the kids in between. I, as one person, cannot put it right because I, as one person, did not put it out of balance. We each contributed in our own way to tilting the playing field. We each have to contribute to leveling it. There is no risk in doing the tilting because it often serves our own interest. There is great risk in leveling it and it will take more than a meeting to call people to do so. Here's hoping that Rev. Curran can find the courage he needs at that meeting.
Meanwhile, do you have suggestions for solutions? Or is this so overwhelming that you will leave this and click on something else whilst shaking your head?
Sunday, November 15, 2009
In the Camden Courier Post today, I read a feature story about a group called Urban Promise. They are a christian-based organization who's mission is to help urban, poor kids in Camden and other cities around the world. They have two private schools, after school programs, summer camp, internships, and lots of ways to reach out to urban kids for education, guidance, and spirituality. I don't care that they have a religious agenda. If it works for some kids, great. What took me by surprise was the literal "missionary" approach they take to fundraising from suburban white people. For just $2500 a year, you can "sponsor" a child. Just like on the late night infomercials, your dollars will go to "your child" who will write to you at least 3 times a year. You can write back because children prefer hand written notes. Huh? You cannot see them, email them, or otherwise be in contact. You cannot give gifts (except to the entire school class of your child), money, or see them outside of the classroom. I understand that a charity has liability limitations and is not wanting well-intentioned white folks to be played for cash. But think about how this positions these kids in the minds of those "sponsors." That's the crux of my issue with their approach. We instill in the minds of white people that their dollars will "save" these kids and that to have any real contact is dangerous. I believe this does more harm than good because it keeps a fixed and probably incorrect image of these kids in the white donor's mind. But then the Urban Promise people need that image so the dollars will continue to roll in. It's a strategy, but one that I think hurts the kids in the long run by perpetuating the stereotype in the donor's mind.
The second article I read was about Kansas City's Power and Light District, the downtown entertainment district built by a corporate developer with public money. Cordish Company has been criticized everywhere they build (I posted on this months ago because Philly has been considering building with this company). They install a dress code that enables them to discriminate overtly and covertly against blacks. They outlaw "thug" wear - any sports jersey's, bandanas, low slung pants, long shorts, long white t-shirts. This is a male oriented dress code to keep out gang bangers, urban roughians, and anyone who wears a fashion that says urban. They would probably outlaw tats, but too many white guys have them too.
The city Human Relations office did a black/white test of the dress code, sending in identically dressed blacks and whites to see if discrimination existed. Surprise! Not. More blacks than whites were denied entrance. The black community in KC has been claiming this for some time, and now it is documented. Several prominent black ministers have spoken out and they led a picket line downtown yesterday to protest the "discretion" used in applying the dress code. I think they have every right to expend their political and social capital any way they choose and if this issue is important, then go for it.
What I am concerned about is the avalanche of white privildege that is on parade in the comment section of the article. The general tone consists of - if you don't like it, don't try to patronize the establishment (my country, love it or leave it comes to mind...).
The criticisms include -
- dress like a thug, get treated like a thug (which just oozes the priviledge of my dress is correct and yours is not)
- statistics prove that blacks shoot up nightclubs, so why would a bar owner let them in...just asking for trouble (statistics prove anything don't they? Let's look at the homicide rate at biker bars and redneck taverns...)
- I want to be able to keep my family safe and the minute I see potential trouble, I won't go back (the quinticential my dollars are more valuable than yours position, so don't piss me off)
- blacks always claim "racism" when something happens they don't like. This isn't racism, it's a dress code (that says white people's clothes are ok and black urban clothes are not).
- black preachers always "protest" - where are Rev. Jessie and Rev. Al - and then they will demand money! Where do the reparations end (considering there have never been any reparations paid...)
- why do blacks always feel "entitled" to something (because they are discriminated against?)
When whites feel threatened, they play the race card by belittleing the protests and demands made by people of color who feel discrimination. Dress codes set up a white environment. Conform and we don't have a problem. Don't conform and we won't let you play with us. When the nonconformists, or rather those who have a different identity, protest that they pay taxes too and should be allowed into this publicly funded area, their identity is scoffed at, their demands are refused, and the white people play the superior victim role of safety. Do we not understand that the continual playing of the white race card serves only to deepen the wedge between races and encourage everyone to play their "role"?????
I was on a local train in south Jersey last night and it has an honor system for tickets. Now and again a security officer gets on the train and asks to see tickets. If you don't have a valid ticket you can be fined or usually, put off at the next station. So three young men (junior high age) were on the train as we sat at the station, got poached for having no tickets, and were told by the security guard to go buy tickets - they did, and got back on the train. All three had baggy pants and/or hoodies, 2 were black and one latino. The security cop was black. I've seen it go down in a much uglier fashion when the security cop is white. The kids tried to get away with something. They got caught and made a decision to pay and ride or not. As the train ride went along they bantered with each other, n***** this and that, cursing, and lots of other testosterone laden bravado. When their stop came, they got off. I'm thinking my observation and interpretation is quite different than most white people's - thug kids trying to get away without paying - typical hoodrats and their language is so threatening. I was afraid I would get mugged.
This is why the missionary approach of Urban Promise is so detrimental. It allows white people to maintain their stereotypes about poor urban kids while feeling good about how they are "helping." The problem is that it means that nothing changes in perception and as long as you look and act like me, we don't have a problem. People of color will continue to "rebel" because of this. We each get backed into our respective corners and harden our positions.
If whites were constantly told that their dress was inappropriate, that they were nothing but suburb-rats, that they were threatening because they are different, then white people would resent it, withdraw, be isolated, and be violent. If you were told you needed to be "saved" and you wanted to preserve some dignity, wouldn't you do what you have to, to make cash and be an outlaw? I guess the original white gangsters are just romantic anti-heroes...
Friday, October 9, 2009
The lesson of the song rings true today as the conservative world spins on a new axis of Obama hating and does contortions to not say what they must really want to say. I don't know what that is, but the tongue twisting of "what was the committee thinking" and "Obama should refuse the award" is double speak for we really don't like Obama. These people wouldn't know how to speak truth to power if they were given a script and coached with "line!"
I thought the Prez was gracious in his acceptance and unifying when he put the Prize into a "call to action." That's our community organizer! Just makes my heart sing. But I get it that others are not willing to heed that call. But let the rest of us have a chance to do so. That's what the right can't stand - is that for every step taken by Obama, they see their forward progress eroding. Despite our best efforts to play winners and losers with elections, politics is NOT a zero sum game. This notion that if I give in to you it hurts me (like the my marriage is threatened if gay couples are allowed to marry) is so closeminded that there will never be a solution. It is like a Jihad...I keep fighting you until I beat you or I die trying. This is not what politics is supposed to be and every day we take more steps down that slippery slope. Have you noticed the rhetoric is bolder in terms of calling out the President on things that aren't even real - he's a communist, he's a socialist. These are not just pejorative slanders. Many's the time I called Bush a moron. These comments are meant to incite fear and resistance to a mythical enemy. I guess if the cold war is over, we should turn on our President? How did we get here? Go read the NYTimes. There have been so many good columns about this topic, I can't even keep up with it here.
I want to call your attention to a writer that I read regularly. Her blog can be found here and it is called "My World." It is artistic, it is savy, it is plainly spoken - in the vernacular of a young urban person. What I like most is that it is HONEST. There is no attempt to bring fear or to threaten. There is no hiding behind a bunch of b.s. It speaks honestly of what the world is like as seen through her eyes. There are others that write better than this, but it doesn't matter, because this young woman is from Camden. She's not hiding out in some suburban bunker lashing out at a world that does not fit her wishes. She's writing about the real life she leads and how it affects her. Of all the people in this country, she has the right to call politics a zero-sum game, and she doesn't. That's truth to power.
Teach, your parents well....
Friday, October 2, 2009
Don't be a hater.
Apparently the message has gone right past some people. That would be the people that are Obama haters. Check out this pic at Tony's Kansas City . Not since the 1960s when the South was littered with "Impeach Earl Warren" billboards, have we seen such political vitriol on the big boards. (If you don't know who Earl Warren is, google him).
I also read a good post at Stuff White People Do discussing why people call Obama "arrogant."
And by now you have heard about the "Should Obama Be Killed" quiz that made an appearance on Facebook.
The haters are merely a reflection of what is seen every day at the personal level all across the country. People who think electing Obama President is an indication of a post-racial society are mistaken. White America may be more tolerant and the willingness to vote for a black President would not have happened 50 or 60 years ago. But for some reason, the racism that often remains isolated at the local level has now moved to the national stage. Perhaps it is the incivility of Congress that is emboldening haters. Or maybe loud haters are emboldening Congressional bad behavior. Maybe FOX news is giving voice to the voiceless - haters that could only reach a local audience, now being celebrated on this broadcast network. I'm not so naive to think that racism and priviledge will ever be gone, but I am hoping we have made strides. One indication of progress would be that people stand up to this type of hatred.
Some readers will say that the billboard has NOTHING TO DO WITH RACE. They will insist that the billboard is merely use of free speech by those who disagree with the President's agenda. To that I say, really? Are you so resistant to acknowledging that racism exists that you refuse to see what is obvious? I'm not saying that anyone who disagrees with Obama is a racist, because that would be ridiculous. I don't agree with Obama on everything. But when you resort to a billboard with a hammer and sycle and you proclaim "live free or die" you have to think about the racial implications.
I support healthy political debate and encourage viewpoints to be vigorously discussed, challenged, and argued. But I believe that hate, as expressed in this billboard, is connected to racism. I realize that the right also had it out for President Clinton. But you didn't see people bringing guns to Clinton speeches or calling him a commie or throwing around the "live free or die" rhetoric. There is a qualitative difference with the discord surrounding President Obama. Read Tom Friedman's column in the NYTimes. Here's the money quote: "We can’t change this overnight, but what we can change, and must change, is people crossing the line between criticizing the president and tacitly encouraging the unthinkable and the unforgivable."
I can only hope that people take this on and challenge the wingnuts, haters, and extremists. Vigorous debate - don't just ignore it.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Candidates: Angel Cordero, Roberto Feliz, Danna Redd and Mujima Parker
Notable characteristics and ideas -
Cordero: passionate about residents, respect, education, and "getting the job done." His biggest idea is to have block captains throughout the city to be eyes and ears on neighborhood services. There weren't too many other specifics, but he is committed to the people.
Feliz: he is a former director of Public Works in Camden and is running on his track record. Apparently at one time the PW department ran well? He brings his experience and administrative experience. He will get better contracts for the city.
Redd: current city council member AND state Senator. She was crisp and knew her facts and figures. However, she didn't really have many specific solutions or actions to take beyond traditional political platitudes.
Parker: running on her expertise as a former state administrator in Economic Development and her training as a public administrator. Her responses reflected an administrative approach to city hall that is more fitting for a City Manager than a Mayor. But since we don't have a Manager, we must rely on the mayor- except that in Camden we have a COO appointed by the Governor.
It was quite interesting to note that only Redd clearly stated that the Mayor should be in charge (Feliz said the mayor should have more oversight). Given that Redd is the odds on favorite, one has to wonder if Corzine is elected if he will end the COO arrangement early, or appoint a titular COO but give the Mayor much more power.
It should go without saying that Camden needs jobs, public safety, public services, education, businesses, tax ratable property, and housing revitalization. When you have only 90 seconds to answer a question, stating the obvious is nothing but filler. We heard a lot of filler.
Cordero had the most interesting idea of the night that was out of the norm. He suggests having block captains throughout the city and to demand a better level of respect of citizens by city employees. Block captains would monitor city services and report info to City Hall, holding the city accountable. They also would be neighborhood watch to ensure that the guilty are caught and punished, rather than the innocent - whom he claimed are too often snatched up by the Police. He also called several times for community policing and community development corporations to be in every neighborhood. No one else said that. For the most part, though, he was more passion than ideas.
Feliz mentioned several times that the city should have a building inventory and assessment to get a handle on conditions and property. He also stressed several times the need to have better city contracts that are competitive and give better results for the money to the city. Trash hauling and street sweeping were mentioned. He also had an idea echoed by others, that the city should stop landbanking property and holding it too long (until the property rots). He was the only candidate to step up and admit that the city had a $56million deficit this year. Though he did not have a particularly strong plan to eliminate it. He did state several times that service at city hall should be the focus and that city hall employees must do a better job of customer service. Others echoed this. He primarily saw the mayor's position through the lens of his former job as Public Works director.
Parker put an emphasis several times on "marketing" Camden to business and potential residents because the city is so well situated on the East coast. In its current condition, I'm not sure if location, location, location will be persuasive. She did make a point that she wants to empower the residents. To do what, she did not say. A crowd pleaser statement, echoed by the other candidates was that city hall department heads must be held accountable. Parker went a step further and said, if a lateral move is not sufficient, an employee should be terminated. Those may be fighting words in Camden. She highlighted her state level experience and contacts she has along with her report reading skills and review skills. It sounded terribly bureaucratic. Like Redd, she knew something about specific programs, legislative opportunities, and sources of potential partnerships and grant funds. However, when she said, "I have grant writing skills" I wondered if she was really going to be that hands on!
Redd was the canidate to beat tonight, simply because she is the organized party candidate and odds on favorite to win. She stayed on message, but didn't say much. That was dissappointing. She did say that she would be a hands on mayor and she regularly drives the streets of Camden to see for herself what is going on. Cordero had the best comeback to that, stating the block captains - not one leader at city hall - should be the eyes and ears of the City. She did put a lot of energy and thought into the need to work with the school district and other educational providers to help kids. She was the only one who pointed out the "youngness" of Camden with 40% of the population under 25 (I think that was the figure). Overall, her answers were informed, but often cautious.
Two questions were of particular interest to me - Economic Development and Abandoned Property. Here are the responses that were on point to the question. I ommit the filler.
Economic Development - how will you handle the challenging fiscal time the city is in right now?
Redd: I am pragmatic. We need an honest dialogue with residents. We need a long term financial recovery plan. Need to keep and bring in business. Need efficient and effective use of city dollars so as not to cut services. City hall needs to be customer and business friendly.
Money quote: I will change the culture at city hall.
Parker: Use tax incentives. Effectively market the city and its location to bring in business. Promote homeownership to bring in tax revenue.
Cordero: I have faith and determination. Just get the work done. We will get dollars from the state and federal politicians (naming Obama). We will do whatever it takes.
My take: this was the most non-answered question from this candidate all night.
Feliz: Deficits increase in Camden every year and the city is currently at $56 million. We can do a better job with the dollars we have through better contracts, more efficiency, and better organization.
My take: it's a good idea, but for him, it was a one-trick pony
Abandoned Property - What would you do in your first year?
Parker: I would work with the city legal department and sell properties to individuals, nonprofits, and for-profit companies to rehab and build.
Cordero: Abandoned property is an opportunity to employ and train residents in the building trades. I would use the abandoned property act. I would work with the Housing Authority. I would create an amnesty program. [not sure if that is amnesty from taxes, code violations or what. I didn't get it down.]
Feliz: The city should stop landbanking because the city holds property for too long and lets it deteriorate to the point it can't be fixed or sold. Need a building assessment of all property. Need to collect taxes. Need to enforce codes, but not too much because too much enforcement leads to vacancies.
My take: he was on point with the landbank issue, but lost me with the vague enforcement idea.
Redd: Abandoned property is the #1 issue I have heard from groups such as CCOP and Camden United. The abandoned property act is available. The issue is funding, we don't have enough. DRPA should use some of the unspent prison razing funds to help the city with this issue.
My take: I wonder if Jeff Nash has heard this?
In the next question on abandoned property the candidates reiterated things they had already said. Redd, however, stepped up the game when she stated: I'll work with nonprofits, implement the Abandoned Property Act, use the Obama urban agenda to our advantage, and I will respect the neighborhood stakeholders in every neighborhood.
My take: this should be of interest to those who think she was on the wrong side of the Cherokee/Cramer Hill development issue.
The rest of questions had the candidates trotting out tried and true ideas - partnerships with the federal and state levels to get revenue for the city; work with business to bring jobs to Camden; better education and after school programs. Redd explicitly said keep the schools and community centers open after hours and on weekends to support kids and families. Cordero made strong points about education and job training for youth and need for community schools.
I have no doubt that all 4 of these candidates want this city to succeed. They each expressed strengths and showed weaknesses. What might be interesting is if whoever is elected (Redd) works to include the other candidates and their constituencies in their administration. You have two experienced adminstrators and all 4 candidates said there needs to be accountability for department heads at city hall. Two new department heads may have been in the room tonight. You have a strong community activist from the Latino community who emphasized respect of citizens, including citizens in a meaningful way with the city, and focus on education (and he has some experience in running or organizing an educational support program). Use these resources, Dana!! Let's not let it be business as usual and circle the wagons. Open up the campfire to EVERY CORNER of the city. That would be novel.
Watch for CCOP's summary of responses to each question. I tried to capture the highlights here.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Newsweek put out an article this week on how children interpret race and how discrimination comes into their psyche. It is a very good read (thanks to Airick). One of the upshots of the article is that kids will make distinctions and if adults sweep racial differences under the rug, we may be making things worse as we leave kids to their own devices. The point made is that adults who try to ignore race, mainly because they think acknowledging race is a de facto discrimination, are making things worse. Better to talk to kids about cultural differences, the fact that people are of different races, and the fact that none of that matters.
We hail Obama as the first African-American President, but we lash out at people who denigrate him because of his race. We can't be colorblind because racial difference is already out there. To ignore it is to confuse kids and leave people to their own interpretations. However, if we suggest that race doesn't matter we run the risk of being callous towards the history of discrimination and vestiges of the most egregious behaviors. These are examples of the confusion that many white people face (see the Newsweek article for the indepth discussion). To this I say, boo - frickin- hoo! Why are white people always whining about confusion with racism? Things like - we don't know what to say, or, black people are so sensitive, or, what am I supposed to do? Watch this video and see a great racism "experiment" in an upscale store and see what I mean (thanks to MILO). At least a few people stood up...
The recent court ruling that vindicated white firefighters who had been passed over for promotion in favor of minorities opened up the entire issue of racial preferences all over again. They claimed that we can't subsidize racial minorities without penalizing whites. Whites in this case declared that at some point the subsidy must stop and the penalizing end. Merit is a fine measure of who should get what job, which promotion, what opportunity. But if the playing field is inherently biased, then should those who are in deficit get better odds to level the playing field? To suggest that whites are penalized is to ignore the imbalance of the starting line. At the end of the day it seems that discrimination begets discrimination - if one group behaves as racists, we attempt to right the wrong. This leads to whites feeling slighted and claiming that minorities are getting more than they deserve if we are "colorblind."
I am sometimes criticized as being an apologist for my race. I don't apologize for my race, I admonish white people to get their act together and live responsibly in a diverse world.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
We also have a number of municipal positions open. I know who is running for mayor on the D ticket and the independents. But who is running for the open city council seat that Fuentes is leaving? I thought Redd's seat was open too, but not sure. I just read that she is not giving up her Senate seat until she wins the Mayor's office. Is her seat on council open? Is anyone running? Apparently the local paper of record is not much more than a re-post of press releases. I can't find any information of substance.
I make these remarks not just as an armchair quarterback in Camden observing the sorry state of political affairs. But I sit here knowing that this weekend I will be back in Kansas City helping to deliver a one day campaign school for SCHOOL BOARD!!! Yes, that's right. In our little burg of KCMO, we have done the impossible - raised the awareness and interest in the School District elections to new heights, wherein, over 100 people have signed up to attend the day's event. The event is being sponsored by Kansas Citians United for Educational Achievement (www.kcu4ea.org), a grassroots group that supported the most recently elected school board member; the first school board member to be elected in a contested race on the ballot in many years; in a district that is no better than Camden and to whom the voting public had completely turned its back. The interest in using the political participation process to address the needs of the students in the district has come about because people believe it makes a difference who you elect. The candidate, now school board member, has taken it upon himself to be accountable, to seek unity on the school board to accomplish what he promised, and to honor the unity coalition that elected him.
Kansas City is a racially and ethnically divided city with a long history of segregation. The city is large in size and has 14 school districts. The central district - KCMO - is predominantly black, poor, and shrinking due to white flight to private and charter schools. Yet it was possible to reach across the racial and ethnic divides and create a unity coalition - not to win, but to unify. Winning came naturally out of that. It is the difference between a hack political town like Camden and a success story such as this one.
What does it take to overcome the political malaise of Camden and hold politicians accountable, force transparency, and provide for a unified public where benefits go where needed, not just wanted?
1. it takes committed candidates who seek unity first, accountability first, transparency first, and winning second. Compromising now to "get into office" is a path of ruin. If you compromise to get into office, what makes you think you can possibly be effective? Doesn't mean you have to be righteous and inflexible, but you must have something on which you can be held to account.
2. it takes a point around which the voters will rally - Obama did it with Change, Yes We Can. I don't mean jingoism. I mean a real central point that defines the candidacy. In KC it was Unity for Educational Achievement and the campaign lived that every day and in every strategy. Unity was more important than winning. Obama said many times - if I win, it is because people agree with my principles and ideas. If they don't agree, I won't win and I can live with that.
3. it requires that there be outlets for people to have discourse and dialogue about politics. The paper of record in Camden is short on journalism and long on a bunch of racists who populate the comment pages. In KC the blogosphere is huge, credible, and powerful because it gives people a voice. Where in Camden do people have a voice that is heard and is preserved? Go to a meeting and it is just so much wind blown and gone. Post on a blog or comment on a blog and you have a record that people can go back to and be inspired, incensed, or bored. I post Camden blogs on my blog list here, but the bloggers have to keep posting!! And people have to read and comment to sustain a dialogue!!
That's my Labor Day rant. I'm off to KC to do 2 sessions at our training day on running a local campaign. Should be fun. I hope someday there is a need to do the same thing here in Camden!
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
1. We will have a new mayor in the fall, most likely - Dana Redd (giving up her state Senate seat and City Council seat. FYI she replaced a Senator who entered Federal prison today :P)
2. We will have a new President of the City Council - Angel Fuentes is running for State Rep.
3. We will have 2 new city council members - Fuentes and Redd are running for new offices
4. We will have a new state appointed COO - Judge Davis leaves this week
5. We will have a new Public Safety Director - Vega resigned last week
6. We will have a new State Rep - open seat
7. We will have a new State Senator - open seat
8. We will have a new CEO of Cooper's Ferry Development Corp., nonprofit developer of the Camden waterfront - Tom Corcoran left for a similar job in Philly and the V.P. will move up.
9. We have a new Chancellor at RU-C - Wendell Pritchett came over from U Penn
10. And we will have a Gubernatorial election in November, which may or may not give us a new Gov.
You have lame ducks running for a different office, you have vacancies, you have higher-ups running for re-election, and most politicos are paying attention to the election - not governing.
Two things happen when there is this much tumult.
One is that people hunker down and try to keep everything at status quo until new people arrive and the situation can be assessed.
Two is that people proceed into the void and hope to shape the landscape before new people are in place. This is the more likely scenario. People take advantage of the fact that eyes are elsewhere and there is opportunity to act. In Camden, this may be a good thing. If the regular cast of elected officials is looking at the election, there is room to maneuver and actually make some headway in this town where every pol puts their thumb on the City's neck!
The city is in the midst of trying to apply for as much Federal stimulus money as it can. This was not a good time for the COO to walk out.
The city is in the midst of reshaping the police force and getting officers on the street instead of behind the wheel or a desk. This has not been easy. Not a good time for the PS Dir. to quit.
The city needs jobs, jobs, jobs. Not a good time for 2 key City Council people to leave to campaign.
I don't know that it matters if the State Rep and State Senator change. The state legislature is still a bit of a mystery to me.
It is a great time for a new Chancellor at Rutgers, Camden - the academy does not move well with interim place-holders, no matter how good they are.
It is a great time for new leadership to take on the development issues of waterfront neighborhoods. Tom did his job well and was a great champion for Camden. But even he needs to move on to a new challenge and let his successor take a run. Young blood can be a game changer.
Stay tuned. It should be a very interesting Fall season!
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Headline one is that the June unemployment rate in Camden is at 18%. Of course the actual rate is probably closer to 30% given the way the rate is figured.
Headline two is that a Union County Senator in NJ is trying a last minute block of the demolition of the state prison in Camden that is built on PRIME Delaware River waterfront land with fabu views of the Philly skyline.
Some of the more vitriolic commenters in Camden have used their flawless logic to suggest that if unemployment is high, the prison should stay open because it provides jobs. How many of those jobs are held by Camden residents has not been reported (our hometown newspaper is not exactly an investigative powerhouse). Let's say 20% of the prison staff are Camden residents and there are 500 employees (I'm taking a wild guess here). That would mean 100 jobs for Camden residents. That is a number worth talking about if it is valid. Did I mention that it has been reported that all the guards and staff were redistributed in the NJ Corrections system. So no jobs have been lost, just moved. The value of this land far surpasses its current use. The neighborhood is organized, but very poor and suffers from regular drug dealing, drug users, gun violence, etc. It also has a large share of social service agencies located there.
So the Senator's question is why is the state demolishing a relatively new facility whose lifespan is not yet up? Maybe the question should be, will Camden generate more tax money from a taxpaying development (as opposed to a state building that pays no taxes) and generate more stability in the neighborhood, thus costing the state less in the funding it pays to "take care of" Camden?
I doubt that any analysis has been done on this property, what its value is, what its future use value is, tax revenue expected, or how it will affect the neighborhood's revenue production. Compared to its current tax status (0) and the negative impact on the neighborhood - would you like to buy a home with a lovely view of the prison?-, any development would likely provide a net revenue gain. If something is to be built on the prison site, would there be jobs for residents in construction and in whatever the development becomes? Would it be a net gain to the city in jobs (remember the prison staff got transferred)?
It is amazing to me, no, outragous to me, no, more like incomprehensible to me that there is no jobs plan for Camden. None. Nada. And now a state Senator is going to say - you know - the state may need that prison, so let's not be so hasty to tear it down. Senator - you want a prison so badly - move it to your county.
What would you like to see on that site? I have heard that the neighborhood would like a park. Nice, but there is a waterfront park on the other side of that neighborhood. Do we need another? How about if this land makes some money? Luxury condos? - doubtful. Casino and hotel? - I've heard that idea - we could steal revenue from all the Pennsylvania people. But given how badly Atlantic City is doing, I doubt that will be allowed to happen. How about a grocery store? It would be tucked back into a corner of Camden, but it is easily accessible by residents. Being tucked back means it is much less likely to be robbed - no easy getaway. Make it a waterfront grocery with a full service deli (like they have at Wegmans) and people could eat there, enjoying the waterfront views. Don't taxpaying residents deserve a waterfront view like the prisoners had? Since it is state property or DRPA property or City property - it should be able to be sold for a $1. Then there would be no need for TIF or other incentives. Just build your business and open it. Pay taxes like everyone else. Or lease the land for 25 years. Anything you build there right now will have a shelf life of maybe 30 years. A 20 year run as a grocery would be nice. Give the neighborhood some stability and an anchor.
A grocery would provide some jobs. It would provide nutritious food which is in short supply in Camden, but it won't provide much tax revenue, especially if the land is leased (though a PILOT could be part of the lease). What if condos were built? They would pay residential property taxes, but there would be no jobs. And a bunch of rich people who buy condos in a rough neighborhood will demand lots of services from the city, costing more than they contribute. Not a good bargain.
The point of riverfront space is to make it revenue producing AND accessible to residents so they can enjoy some nice manicured space too. There is an expectation that once the prison is gone, the riverfront walkway on the south side of the BF bridge will extend north to this land. That would enable north Camden residents to easily use the riverwalk.
So can we find a use that fulfills all our needs? First, lets make sure the prison goes away.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Rule #1 - there will forever be violence, murder, and mayhem on the streets where poor people are stuck because drugs, unemployment, and despair lead to crime. So all these folks that keep commenting on news stories and blogs should stop judging and realize it is a sobering reality to live in the urban core because that is all you have.
Rule #2 - statistics are always interpreted and interpretation is subjective. Does it matter if crime rates are going up or down if we still have 150 homicides in KC and 30 in Camden in 8 months? KC is 475,000 people in 300 square miles. Camden is 76,000 people in 9 square miles. Size matters.
Rule #3 - police on the street is part of the solution. In Camden, the new chief has put cops on the street to practice spot enforcement and martial law. It's designed to be a wake up call for rampant lawlessness on the streets in some neighborhoods. Basically, however, it is saying that the police will force crime to go underground. That sounds good - because if you aren't dealing on the streets, it is less likely that a drive-by shooting will claim innocent people sitting on their porch or stoop, or a kid playing in the street. It's laughable that the police union in Camden is whining about lunches missed and grieving the loss of time off. Sorry, but millions of people work their lunch hour every day to get the job done (I do). Camden is in trouble and it is your job to help fix it. It's a big change when the new chief says go patrol in the tough neighborhoods - and now you don't have a choice. Why did the police every have a choice? And if there are too few cops in Camden, why were any of them assigned to sitting behind a desk?
Rule #4 - jobs, jobs, jobs - urban core neighborhoods are dysfunctional because there are no jobs. The rest of the country is starting to feel that now. Suburban neighborhoods with foreclosures are finding that the houses are unsightly and unkempt and making people annoyed. Petty crime is up in the suburbs. We glorify a suburban widow dealing drugs in Weeds. Why? because she can make money doing it - why else? Drugs in the urban core is a business - a violent, dangerous, cutthroat business. It is an illegal business, but when there is money to be made, people will make it. Don't have to commute, dress is casual, I know my co-workers, and I get paid in cash. This is the American dream. If farmers in Afghanistan can grow poppies as a cash crop, inner city residents will deal drugs. Give people something else to grow or sell or get paid to do that is commensurate with their time and effort - and people will stop selling drugs. But please, don't offer the drug dealers and users a minimum wage job working 40 hours a week at the grocery store as a substitute unless there is health insurance, walk to work, easy wardrobe, and a willingness to accept people not judge them. Will people want to get off the dangerous streets? Yes, they will. But not to be insulted, to earn a fraction of what they had earned, and to not be compensated to replace the incredible danger of their former job.
I think the police are incredible people - they take on a job that most people don't want. But just because you wear a badge, doesn't mean you have license to be a prick or a bitch. Doesn't mean you don't have to maintain control of a situation - I get it that police can easily be in danger and not everyone likes them. It is a dangerous job and no one has forced you to take it. You do the job and we are grateful, but it doesn't make you immune from criticism. You carry a gun and are licensed to use it on your judgment. That's an incredible responsibility. But bear in mind that people are to be protected too, not just brutalized and ordered about. It is a difficult line, but we need you to do your job and do it well - not just be a thug. We have plenty of those on the streets already.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Given the story on Dr. Gates at Harvard this week, we begin to see that not much has changed yet in the post-racial America. On the Courier Post site there is a steady cacophony of haters that repeat their mantras over and over and dominate the public sphere. I can't change their minds, but I do think that their residual impact is real and needs to be addressed. The constant "hater soundtrack" eats into the psyche of this city and people begin to nod, agree, and give up. The Judge's upbeat messages sound laughable against the soundtrack of the anti-Camden chorus.
Camden has deep, multiple, problems that are not easily overcome. The city may never turn around. But the city can be a great place for low and middle income people to live with dignity, safety, and with decent public services. People like to pontificate that you have to get the schools fixed, otherwise no company will come here. Or you have to get the crime down, or no employees will live here. Rutgers has the same mentality - we won't get more students unless the city is "fixed." I have a completely different viewpoint. You have to give people a reason to come and stay, and they will. This city does everything it can do to actively dissuade people from coming here, staying here, and liking this city. No amount of waterfront development will overcome a lethargic and rude bureaucracy. No amount of redevelopment funding will overcome a school district that won't communicate with its constituency. We like to think the problems of Camden are completely insurmountable unless we have zillions of dollars. It's just not the case.
I really don't care who is running the city - whether it is George Norcross, Dana Redd, Governor Corzine, Judge Davis, or the Chief of Police. What I do care about is that the city be run for the benefit of the residents and that the institutions have as much pride being in Camden as the many residents who are from Camden have. Go to a Camden High School football game or reunion and you will see the pride. Do people throw trash on the street? Yes. Does open air drug dealing exist? Yes. Does that mean there is no respect for the city? No. It means that people are behaving accordingly in a dysfunctional place. If there are no trash containers on the street and if they are not regularly emptied, why should I care if I throw trash on the ground? If there are no jobs and no plan to create jobs, why should I disregard the one activity where I know I can earn money? And don't start throwing morality at this. People who see that a Harvard professor can be arrested in his own home because he is black are not going to buy into a morality defense of a racist system.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Here is some unsolicited insight on how the City of Camden might proceed with their neighborhood planning, how to bring them up for public approval, and what they might get out of the process.
1. the city did a good job in having meetings with the community, focus groups, charettes, and all the other forms of input, dialogue, and citizen involvement. But it was all organized by the city planning staff and their consultants. None of this was citizen led or driven. Buzzzzzzz. 1st mistake.
2. the final version of the plan was finished by the city staff in May, but until tonight, the residents had not seen it. Buzzzzzzzzzz 2nd mistake.
3. the neighborhood is 73% latino. there was no translator nor were any of the materials available in Espan~ol. Buzzzzzzzzzz. 3rd mistake.
4. the city staff and consultants went to great length to assure the residents that no pieces of property on the eminent domain list were occupied, nor would they try to acquire any occupied properties. Eminent domain is a huge issue for residents in Camden and is the cornerstone of most neighborhood organizing against redevelopment. Planning staff just had to make one correction to the plan - 8 properties listed as vacant, but now they find in fact they are occupied. Then during comments, a business owner points out 3 of his properties on the acquisition list but he is using them - so please take them off. Buzzzzzzzz. 4th mistake.
I'd had enough at that point and left the circus.
Here's how this could have gone smoothly, been done in partnership with the community, and had a result that all parties could live with.
1. the presentation of the final plan to a group of 100+ residents should be done by the community group with the staff. Leave your consultants on the sidelines. they have no credibility in the neighborhood. If you don't have a plan that neighborhood leaders will step up and present, then your work is not yet done.
2. the community leaders should make the presentation to the planning board with the staff and consultants. they should have a scripted role to play, not be relegated to the comment line. It's just so demeaning and disingenuous to have your consultant spout about all the public meetings you had while the community leaders are orchestrating people to stand in line to make their statements opposing the plan. If people are adamantly opposed to what you are proposing, then you need to keep working to find an acceptable compromise. Neighborhood is not just a geographical concept. It is social fabric.
3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK - don't come to a legal hearing when you have not checked your occupancy list for a year. You will (and did) get blindsided when people who live and work in the neighborhood on a daily basis point out your errors. You lose all your credibility.
4. Respect your constituency. Don't have your consultant go through all the neighborhood stats, leading off with 73% latino, and then not have a translator or other bilingual preparations. It is insulting.
I'm not trying to be an I told you so, but this stuff is basic planning 101. The city should be embarrassed.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Note: the cartoon is from Mike Luckovich blog http://blogs.ajc.com/mike-luckovich/2009/07/14/july-15/
The Senate hearings are on and apparently a number of Senators feel that the default setting for the judicial, legal, and rest of the world is the way they see things. Coincidentally, this view emanates from a white, male, perspective that is generally skewed by wealth and education. If you think differently, you are "biased." Judge Sotomayor is getting that "bias" thrown at her at every Republican turn to speak. Well, guess what fellas. It is 2009 and not everyone thinks as you do. In fact, we elected (with a solid majority), a president that thinks differently than you do.
Those that blast Judge S. are certainly entitled to their opinion, to use their venue to espouse that opinion, and to vote accordingly. But I am so very tired of having their opinion defended at my expense. That somehow my opinion is un-American, socialistic, "biased," or some other denigration. Just stand for your own opinion and stop throwing me under the bus.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
I was cruising on FB and looking at pages of friends I hadn't heard from in a while just to see what's up. I went to the page of one of my new Camden friends, Dafiq Rasheed. There were zillions of posts on his wall, all about him being gone, RIP, and yes, he died.
I went to the Atlantic City newspaper and found his obit, a story about his death and couldn't believe it. Still can't. In shock. This was a great young man. He ran for city council in Atlantic City this June and lost (I blogged about this previously). He was smart, wanted to make a difference in his community, had style and ambition, and knew how to play the game. He transferred to RU-Camden in January and that's when I met him. I don't even remember how now, but we had instant rapport. He would come by my office to talk politics and about racial issues. He was out to save Atlantic City, but cared about Camden too. He was 19.
My world is a bit upside down right now. He died last week and the funeral was last Thursday. I didn't know a thing. Apparently he drowned at a pool party. What? How can this be?
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Despite the haranguing I took from the blogosphere this week on Citadel, I know that what I do and say works for me and that I must do what I do. It is why I met DeShawn and I am better for that.
I've been called a do-gooder, a hero, a sycophant, a narcissist, a dangerous subversive, a pioneer. It is very odd to have people comment on what they see as your motives for how you live your life. Eveyone is entitled to their opinion, including me. Tonight, my opinion is dark and foreboding. I feel like an impotent charlitan who thinks they can make an impact on the world only to see that it is a grain of sand on a vast beach.
I can intellectualize for hours about the urban condition and race relations. I can craft rings of logic around racists and dullards that will tie them in knots. I can champion a cause, advocate for a position, sit in judgment, and create understanding with the best of them. But none of these skills I possess will change the fact that a young person died. Cynics will attest that thousands of people die every day and more are born every day. It is like life is some huge conveyor belt where we get on and fall off - either during the journey or when the belt comes to an end. Realists will say, it is what it is and it is inevitable. Preachers will comfort us, friends and neighbors will join in commraderie to support the living, and the chapter of the world that had DeShawn in it will be closed. He was here and now he is not.
But we all have an impact on the next person - whether intended or unintentional. Whether it is Scrooge or George Bailey - each person affects the next. Some people look at it like dominos where the impact is sustained, each to the next. I think of it more as a ripple effect that ebbs and flows and gets pushback. Ripples don't die out, they just meet an immovable object that pushes back and moves the ripple in another direction. That's how I want to think of DeShawn. Not as gone and forgotton, but a ripple that met an immovable object and is now pushed off in a new direction. His energy is still with us though his body may be finished. That energy is roaming and is affecting people he didn't even know - like the people that are reading this. He affected me in ways that he was never aware of. So maybe we aren't impotent and maybe we aren't charlitans. Maybe we should not feel dark and foreboding, but enlightened and flush with the understanding that our "life" is energy that never ends. I'll see DeShawn tomorrow in the faces of his family, in the grief that will pour from friends and neighbors. I'll feel his energy in the hope that we all have for others to not have their ripple interrupted so soon. I'll know he is out there moving his energy to have interactions in new ways that we don't yet comprehend. It will be a good day.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
The Kansas City blog-world is buzzing about today's City Council consideration of funding for the Citadel Plaza retail development project. I don't know what the current plans look like, but I saw an iteration a year ago. It had failure written all over it. I know a thing or two about urban commercial development and know that if you don't build it for the right retail mix and pre-lease, no one will come and you will have a vacant bombshell on your hands.
The Citadel project is at 63rd and Prospect next to a busy highway where people would have to exit to shop, then get back on the highway. It is near a large hospital and medical center. It also is technically on the poor and minority side of town (though within a mile of affluent whites). Many ill-informed people think that Troost is still the official racial dividing line. It is more likely Paseo and perhaps, US 71/Watkins Highway. I put together this short demo to talk about retail trade strategy and a trade analysis of the area (which I am sure is having no bearing on the public sector decision making).
What really fries me is that commenters on the blogs are very self assured that this is a bad development deal because:
1. who in their right mind would shop in this neighborhood because it is has poor people and crime
2. why would white people shop in a black neighborhood?
Check out this post and comment thread (I have a couple of comments posted) at Midtown Miscreant who, for some reason, is seen as some kind of authority on this subject.
The ever popular TKC also has been running some great investigative posts on this subject, but this one brings out the best in the commenters.
Tony's Kansas City
Everyone who weighs in on this issue is very sure that this project will fail for reasons 1 and 2 above. No one is talking about any Economic Development analysis or retail strategy - which is of course what you need to be considering.
I am so tired of white people and middle class people making their pronouncements about poor people and minority neighborhoods. Most of them are so scared of these areas, they never go there. So their pronouncements are nothing more than their own fears as fact. Having lived much farther east in KC than this particular location, I feel I can say with some assurity - they are all full of crap. Yes, there is crime. Yes, there is poverty. Is the area as safe as the most affluent neighorhoods? Yes and probably safer. Crime in these neighborhoods is not random burglaries but often violence directed at specific people and activities. Read my most recent posts. DeShawn didn't get killed on the street. He got killed in a basement, where, if he had walked away from the situation, would not have died there.
People who don't live in these neighborhoods assume that they would be shot on sight, carjacked, and mugged if caught on the street. Anything is possible, but is it highly unlikely. You are as likely to be carjacked at the Oaks mall or have your purse snatched as you are on the eastside of KC. You are as likely to see a gun chase down Brookside Blvd. as you are down Prospect (and yes, both have happened in the last 2 years). It is these engrained perceptions and assumptions of truth that stymie investment in the urban core in KC, in Camden, and most other places. Bankers, commercial brokers, and others who "know" by looking at the same stats they look at for the suburbs, make decisions every day that reinforce their ignorance at the expense of the people who are trying to live in these neighborhoods.
I suggested on MM's blog post that if an IKEA were put in at the Citadel, it would be a rousing success, because despite what everyone "knows" about the area, the draw of an IKEA would outweigh their fears. Comments after mine amply demonstrate that. So if you want to ensure success for your shopping center, maybe Sweedish furniture is the way to go.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
We get jaded by all the news that flies in our faces. Revolution in Iran and a young girl dies in front of us on YouTube. Another shooting in the ‘hood and a young man lies dead or is the shooter. Gun violence breaks out in a poor urban neighborhood and a child is killed in the crossfire. But this is personal. This is real. This is one of my kids. And now he is no longer here. How can this be?
I vacillate between disbelief, sorrow, and anger. My anger is the most productive emotion. I can try to channel my grief into an outpouring of anger that can be directed towards some cause. I have proclaimed that I am dedicating myself to the cause of changing the acceptance of the gun culture. I could adopt the cause of rallying against gun violence, but that is redundant. Guns can only be violent since that is their purpose. “Gun violence” is just a politically correct way of saying get rid of guns, as if to say “I accede to the right to bear arms, but am against the violence.” Bullshit. The attractiveness and appeal of guns has got to go.
Glorifying guns as an urban accessory is what I am against. I was in a park this evening and a little kid was climbing on the slides and jungle gym. He pulled out a gun – a toy one. It looked somewhat real. He brandished it with bravado. That is the gun culture we have to change. That is the glorification of guns that makes them irresistible to kids, teens, and young adults who feel the need to possess them and even use them. This little kid saw “play” in having a toy gun to pull on me. He showed me his swag’a. Who would buy a toy gun for a child? My mom did. She had a very cute picture of me as a little kid with a holster around my waist and my six-guns pulled. I had a cowboy hat on too. Bam-blam-whooosh. I got you and then I blow the smoke from the barrel of my gun. This is no longer acceptable behavior by adults to model for kids.
This is the face I won’t be seeing any more. He died because we couldn’t help him say no to guns.
Instead, we model to our children and to each other that guns are a necessity to protect our selves, our turf, our respect, and our property, even if we are under no real threat of attack. We model that guns are exciting and scintillating bringing an aura of danger to the situation. Damn right they’re dangerous. How is that exciting or appealing? We model that guns are an urban accessory, whether you are a sports figure, a movie star, a rapper, or a pimp – you need a gun. If you don’t carry it, you have someone carry it for you in the form of a security detail. Yeah, don’t mess with me, cuz I got heat. It’s cool and a sign of status if you are holding or are near large caliber weapons. We fail our kids every time those images are reinforced, because it says to them – guns are cool and necessary.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Niggas die every day, all over bullshit, dope, money
Dice game, ordinary hood shit
Could this be cuz of hip hop music?
Or did the ones with the good sense not use it?
from: T.I., Dead and Gone
I learned yesterday afternoon that one of our Ivanhoe gentleman died from a gunshot wound. But unlike the street violence that is expected to snuff out the life of urban black men, DeShawn died in his basement when he and his friend were fooling around with a gun and it went off. No doubt he will be ridiculed in death for not dieing on the street.
I was devastated at the news. This is a kid that ate and slept at our house. I took him to school when he missed the bus. I took him to his community service on Saturday mornings so he could put his troubles behind him. He was a hustler for sure, but that's how you survive. He also worked hard at school and appreciated his friends when we had his back. When told of his tragic death, I refused to believe it. This could not be true. As the details kept coming across the line and into my ear, my mind could not keep up. This is a young person. This is not supposed to happen. I intervened in his life. Wasn't that supposed to protect him?
Ah, the fallacy of my white privilege came on full display. I, me, the privildged one, had cared about and been in the life of this young man. Ergo, he should be safe. Sadly, life in my neighborhood goes on and all my care and concern for this young gentleman and all the others I care about, will not protect them. It may help them make better choices and keep them out of some harm. But stray bullets are inanimate objects. Physics demands that once a bullet leaves the chamber, it moves until stopped by a mass. In this case, the mass was DeShawn - mass with a name, a twinkle in his eye, love in his heart, an expectation of his future - now as inanimate as the bullet that killed him.
I was getting on an airplane when the news came to me. I managed to get on the plane and then lost it. i was outraged and devastated. How, why, did this happen to our DeShawn. But as T.I. says so eloquently - it happens every day. Yesterday it happened to someone I know. Then I thought about how stupid could DeShawn be to fool around with a gun! What was he thinking? He died for nothing - not for dope, not for turf, not for himself. He just died.
But i won't let that be the end of the story. I don't want this to happen to anyone else. I didn't want this to happen to me - to have to get the news that one of my boys perished. I want to end the gun culture. I couldn't care less if guns are banned, registered, restricted. Let the NRA and the ACLU fight that out. What I want to do is end the culture that glorifies this weapon as some kind of accessory, as some kind of mystical item that has cache, that says it is cool to brandish a gun and that it gives you swag'a. I will not stand for DeShawn's death to be nothing more than dieing at the hands of glamour, dead because of the adulation given to this inanimate object, dead because he and his friend were mesmerized by the power in their hands and the rite of passage it portended if they possessed and carried it. DUMB ASS - WHAT WERE YOU THINKING????
I think I know what he was thinking and he was caught up in the gun culture. He was not plotting a stick up. He was not thinking, hey I need protection from a real threat. This was a symbol, an accessory, a statement of arrival. He wasn't earning his stripes in the street, he was just caught betwixt and between the street life he came in contact with every day and the other life his grandma, we, his teachers, and others were trying to show him. T.I. glorifies the life as a necessity - gotta protect whats yours. Put your hands on me and I gotta respond. DeShawn was not in that life, but he was on the fringes. So why not fall under the spell of the gun and see yourself ready if trouble comes. Trouble was all around him and he danced on the edge, flirting with disaster now and again. But the gun is a glorified object - casting an aura of invincibility, demonstrating life on the edge, and acting as a prop to secure your stature. Nobody will mess with me if I flash the steel.
Reminds me of a Buggs Bunny cartoon. Buggs and Elmer Fudd are going at each other and one picks up a stick, the other a small gun, then the other one comes back with a bigger gun, until finally, one of them rolls in a cannon. And of course it is all done at a high speed with compelling crazy music in the Loony Tunes style. It is hillarious. But it also speaks volumes about where a gun takes you. Hey, I flash mine and I am safe. Ha! Until the next guy flashes his Glock, and the next his auto weapon, and so on. There is no safety. But I will respect the need and right of those who feel they must carry a weapon for protection. But I contend it is a false assumption on their part that is born of the gun culture.
What I can no longer tollerate is the assumption that a gun is cool, is an accessory, makes a fashion statement, or is de rigour in the hip-hop world. THAT is the thinking that got DeShawn killed. It is the first step on thinking that sets you up to believe you are some kind of superhero, that you can dominate, that you can hustle and take, that you have status and position. That a gun will get you what you want. That's how the violence becomes contagious. But it starts with the gun culture. No more. Not on my watch.
I have to go bury my gentleman friend. I join the legions of family members and friends that have seen their young men and women become the physical mass that was the end of the physics chain that starts with a bullet in the chamber. I know there are hundreds of community groups around the country, maybe thousands, that say "stop the violence" "cash for guns" "outlaw guns" "alternatives to violence" "take back our streets" "night out against crime." There is a young man running for city council in NYC, Landon Dais, who is passionate about ending street violence where teenagers regularly get gunned down and die in the street. He has called for a vigil on Father's Day evening to commemorate a 15 year old who died. But they all are missing the larger point. It starts with the glorification of a gun culture. Their protests turn the victims into martyrs and their anger elevates the distinction between those who carry and those who don't . The dispassionate response from the street is "hey, these are the streets, and this is what you get - so carry or else."
We need to transform our conversation about guns and carrying and dying and the angst. I am prepared to be very dispassionate - because a gun is an inanimate object where I will not place my emotional investment. Until others understand that it is just an object of destruction that has no other purpose, we will continue this charade of glorification and status for guns. i don't want to outlaw guns, I want to make them inconsequential to our lives. So that when the next DeShawn sees one, he won't pick it up, won't become the mass that stops the bullet when it leaves the chamber.
RIP my lovely young gentleman.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
So the CP has another story of political bluster on "fixing" Northgate I. I think the building should be demolished and stop putting bandaids on it. The city does not take care of the street in front of the building. It is in an awful location next to the toll booths (noise, polluted air), and then we wonder why people trash the place. Duh.
What are your suggestions for this building? Mold, bugs, rats, not well constructed to begin with. Can't just fix the plumbing and put bug bombs in apartments to get this thing straight. I think it is Camden's version of pruitt-igoe, the infamous St. Louis public housing hi-rise that was blasted years ago and became the poster child for other cities to do the same. We have so many abandoned units in Camden that could be rehabbed and in fact - done so with GREEN REHAB! Imagine - Camden becoming the green rehab center and all the Northgate people could be relocated. I vote to use our Camden stimulus money for this type of project.
People - Camden has got to get it together and get going!!!
See this link for example of affordable green rehab!
Thursday, June 11, 2009
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So how will Camden get on this big "green" gravy train? Who is pushing for economic development via stimulus funding in our city? We have people for labor, land for development, location for access; all we need is for the city and its partners to move on this opportunity.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Kids in our local Camden elementary school sing about their character. This is the good future of our community. It won't appear on the 6 o'clock news, it won't be profiled in the newspaper. But this activity deserves our attention every bit as much as the bleed and lead headlines that continue to demonize our city. These kids worked hard for weeks to put on a band, string, and choral show. Put some faith in what our future can be and support it. I'm a Big Sister at this school and you can volunteer in many ways to support our Camden kids. I'll post options and your suggestions for nonprofits and school volunteer opportunities. They deserve our time and attention. Enjoy!
Sunday, June 7, 2009
The Louisville Live and KC Live districts have both had the same fallout - Cordish demands a dress code that explicitly denies popular clothing worn by young African-American men. Period. In KC the Power and Light District (named after a local historic building)is now known as the Power and White District. No joke.
Last night, DJ Jazzy Jeff was performing at the P&L outdoor stage. 15 minutes after taking the stage he stopped the show and left. The KC blogs are buzzing that he was asked to leave because he played hip-hop music that was not appropriate for the "family oriented" P&L District. This is an over 21 entertainment area and this is DJJJ - a hip-hop legend. What did you think he would spin? Others are saying his mix was too hot and the sound system couldn't handle it. When he "refused" to turn it down, the management said he was out. Others are saying DJ got pissed and walked out.
You can read his twitter account of the event at www.twitter.com @djjazzyjeff215 or read the dozens (and growing) other viral accounts of the situation. There is a boycott P&L district hashtag #boycottKCPL
The entertainment district was built with significant city tax funding and subsidies (tax increment financing backed by the city, not just the venue revenues) and Cordish has a rep already. No white T-shirts are allowed, no backward baseball caps, no sports jerseys (though plenty of whites are seen with sports jerseys and sports t-shirts), no saggy pants. I get that the investors want to keep some kind of standard so the white suburban folks don't get scared when the urban youth take over. I get that the privatization of city space is about making a safe zone for tourists where they feel comfortable away from the "mean urban streets." I get that the city feels they need to placate these investors so the city gets on the map with one of these entertainment districts. I've been studying this topic for my entire career (I'm a professor, get over it). What is going on in KC is an unjust use of tax dollars, in a city that harbors a history of extreme racial bigotry, where the city can't provide ANY entertainment space for young people of color. In the Eastside of KC - where there is a 95% minority (AA and Latino) population - there are no malls, no indoor movie theaters, no teen clubs, very few sit down restaurants where anyone can hang out, and then the city uses its tax dollars in this fashion.
Wake up Philly. You are next on this parade of racial bigotry when Cordish comes to town.
Friday, June 5, 2009
I read 7 full pages of comments on this article - 64 posts when I read them. All but one or two were filled with judgment and spewed hate towards Camden, the protesters, the slanted anti-cop article author, and on and on. I'm betting that 99% of these comment writers, if not 100%, don't live in Camden and base their remarks on their own biased views that are inextricably linked to racism. I can just hear their responses now....doesn't matter if drug dealers are black, white, or purple - if they deal drugs, they are scum and deserve to be treated as such. Trouble is, there are very few white or purple drug dealers in Camden. They mostly are black and brown. Therefore, you have to understand the racial target that is embedded in the criticism. Drug violence is just a window dressing for these comment writers to bash people of color and Camden is a centralized location of people of color in which to do it.
Every day the CP has a race-based story in Camden - crime, public housing, unemployment, violence, school dropouts, arson, housing mess, etc. While these topics are not racially based topics, in Camden, they are necessarily going to be race-based. In a city that is 98% people of color, any story is based in racial overtones. Doesn't mean you don't report events. But the CP has some real responsibility here to be journalists when they report and provide context. Is another murder in Camden really news? Sure,it is. And when you get to point out the mean streets of this city as the context it becomes a feeding frenzy for the comment writers who spew the same crap daily.
This is a city, not a prison. Police in THIS city need to work to protect and serve, not patrol like prison guards. I feel sorry for the cops in Camden because they are put into an adversarial position by the way they are forced to do their jobs. They sit in cars, respond to calls, and function as anonymous guards. Of course their job is dangerous and of course they must treat all people on the streets as suspicious.
The question to be asked is why does this continue? Who is determining that Camden should be treated this way? And don't even think for a minute that this is the only way to do policing. Read the comments on the news stories. They reflect the powers that be that have determined that Camden must be kept in line by force (state takeover, state police, state COO). No one outside of Camden is stepping up to say let's try a different way. It's much easier to just bash the city relentlessly.
I see these protesters as people who are stepping up to say, let's try something else. They may not be eloquent as they say it, but they represent what no one outside Camden will allow.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Elton Custis (D) 192
Eulisis Delgado (D) 113
Dana Redd (D) 1,831
This was just the primary, but the winner won with just 1800 votes. The candidate will face 3 independent candidates in November. A similar outcome is expected. I don't know anything about these candidates - not because I don't care. I think it is obvious that I follow local politics. I am a resident of Camden and registered voter. I did not get one piece of campaign material in my mailbox. I did not see any articles in the newspaper about debates or candidate forums. Sadly, I did not vote in this primary. If I can't be motivated, why would anyone else? The fait a compli in politics in this town is destructive. People are not voting because they see no point. Efficacy must be at rock bottom here. If people were supporting the local ticket, they would go out and vote. People have been conditioned to believe their vote does not matter. And the straight ticket voting process in NJ is archaic and damaging to progressive politics. However, if that is what it takes to be taken seriously in Camden, then I would suggest that the Green Party get active here and slate candidates. It is the only way to enable alternative voices to competitively challenge the Democratic party slate. Not since I lived in Chicago have I seen such dominance of the "party" in politics. In other states the Democrats may dominate, but at least they hold wide open primaries and runoff elections so there is actually competition between candidates. Not so here.
A fine young Democrat ran for city council in Atlantic City yesterday. Dafiq Rasheed is a Rutgers, Camden student and a seasoned veteran of how NJ politics works. Unfortunately, he was slated on the losing ticket and, thus, lost his election. He even had friends say, I wanted you to win, but I didn't like the mayoral candidate at the top of your ticket. He was doomed before he even got started. Politics is not a team sport, but it is in New Jersey.
People in Camden have suggested that a GOTV (Get Out The Vote) effort is needed for politics in our city. But people need something to vote for besides the one slate on the ballot and the completely overwhelmed independent candidates. That's why another party is needed in Camden to challenge the Democrats and put light on the process. I'm a loyal Democrat and I have no interest in seeing Republicans run in Camden. I do believe, however, that we need progressive politics in Camden, more attention to candidates, and more voter participation. We won't see any of that as long as a straight ticket closed primary system is in place.