Philadelphia Mayor on “Assassination” of Trayvon, “Epidemic” of Black youth homicides

Posted on April 15, 2012 by

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On April 11, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter gave a speech entitled “Cities United: A Conversation about Deaths of African-American Males” at the 9th Annual Mayor’s Summit on Race, Culture and Human Relations, in Tallahassee, FL.

To no one’s surprise,  Trayvon Martin was brought up (with Nutter calling his death an “assassination”).  

“On February 26th, on a rainy evening in Florida, Trayvon Martin was assassinated. Today, there is a U.S. Department of Justice grand jury, thousands of protestors chanting, and millions of Americans wanting to know what happened that night…just 250 miles away from here,” Mr. Nutter said.

“The eyes of a nation are on Florida. Our country is wondering ‘how could this have happened’, ‘how could this have been prevented’, and ‘who’s to blame’. It’s easy to say who pulled the trigger, but it’s harder to answer the larger questions Trayvon’s death have raised because his story is told across America each and every day. Right now, young, black males are dying in America. What are we going to do about it?”

From that point, Mayor Nutter went on to address the issue of what he called the “epidemic” of young Black male homicides and violence, their incarcerations and other criminal justice system contacts, and their impacts on every community throughout the nation. He spoke of the increasing absence of effective parental vision and guidance, as well as the absence of national programs – educational, vocational and social – as factors contributing to the manifestation of this epidemic. (Following are excerpts from Mayor Nutter’s remarks. His entire presentation is available via this link: http://cityofphiladelphia.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/mayor-nutter-delivers-address-at-9th-annual-mayors-summit-on-race-culture-and-human-relations/.)  

In the United States today, one in three African American men will have contact with the criminal justice system at some point during their lives. Of the 316 people who were murdered in Philadelphia last year, nearly 75% of those killed were black men. Around 80% of those doing the killing…black men. Black on black crime is not an isolated problem. It affects every member of every community.

It raises our public safety costs throughout the country; reduces cities’ budgets for recreation centers, libraries, education, and other services; and we lose generations of young men to violence or prison. As Dr. King once wrote, we are all “tied together in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This is a national problem with national implications, and there needs to be a national conversation. . . .

Now is the time to speak out and have an honest conversation. . . . We are running out of time. If we do not have the urgency to stand up now and say ‘enough’, then when?”

One August evening, 2011: Mayor Nutter walked and talked with Black youth regarding their roles in Philadelphia’s present and future.

I was raised by my parents in West Philadelphia, a series of neighborhoods full of tree lined streets, row homes, and tightly-knitblocks.

I grew up in a proud, working class community. My parents knew everyone on our block. I was expected to be helpful, to sweep the sidewalk or to help older neighbors with their groceries. I was also expected to be home as soon as the street lights went on; it was inconceivable that I would be somewhere alone after dark. . . .

During these past decades, I have seen a change in the neighborhoods where I grew up. The sense of community has diminished and the collective responsibility of neighbors, who ate together, celebrated together and lived together seems, at times, out of style. . . . As some of our neighborhoods declined, so did the dreams and expectations of those who lived there.

Young men who once believed that a high school diploma would lead to a stable, blue collar job realized that this was no longer the case. These jobs were outsourced, wages stagnated, and manufacturing plants closed. Families fell apart, crime flourished and hope became a luxury.

Some parents failed to take responsibility for their children and then their children did the same. The cycles of poverty, crime, and diminished opportunities took its toll on neighborhoods in cities across America.

The opportunities for Americans, especially African American men with a high school degree or less, became fewer and more elusive. . . .

Crime doesn’t just happen. This poisonous fruit grows in a culture that crushes opportunities, security, and hope. Criminals terrorize communities and decent, hardworking people become afraid to speak out and take back their neighborhoods. . . .

*

In 2011, 75% of Philadelphia’s homicides were African American males—that’s 230 people.

If the Ku Klux Klan came to Philadelphia and killed 230 black men, the city would be on lockdown. If 230 Americans were sickened by tainted spinach, the USDA would begin a nationwide recall. . . . If 230 Americans were killed in a train accident, the National Transportation Safety Board would mobilize, and there would be Congressional hearings on train safety. . . . However, 230 African American men murdered in one city… not one word. No hearings, no investigations, nothing—but silence.

On September 11, 2001, the United States suffered a horrific attack on our country and our citizens. A year later, this attack led to the 9/11 Commission, which laid out the reasons how this happened and how it could have been prevented. . . . September 11th resulted in a full scale change of airline security in America and around the world. You can hardly cough in an airport without the TSA doing a check. . . . An entirely new Cabinet-level position was started, the Department of Homeland Security, to deal with the new programs, systems and bureaucracy, which were created to manage these changes. . . . Even two wars are the result of September 11th. . . . On that day in 2001, there were 2,977 victims.

In 2011, there were 515 homicides in New York City. In Boston – 63 Washington D.C. – 108 Baltimore – 196 Philadelphia – 324 Los Angeles – 298 New Orleans – 199 Chicago – 433 Atlanta – 87 Detroit – 344 Newark – 91 Houston- 198 Memphis – 147

In 2011 in these fourteen major cities in the United States, there were 2,981 homicide victims. And that’s only from last year. If you want to know the number of homicides in America since 2001, you should multiple that number by ten.

What if our response to domestic terrorism was as thorough and engaged as our response to international terrorism? The contrast in our country’s reaction to this violence is astounding.

We need to start the conversation on a national level that this is an epidemic because crime is a symptom of so many other challenges. . . .We need to consider this a public health crisis because violence is at unsustainable levels in our communities and killing our fathers, brothers and sons. Black men are becoming an endangered species in America, locked up or dead.

*

We know that these individuals participating in the criminal lifestyle are more likely to face health issues and chronic diseases. They’re more likely to grow up and live in stressful homes, and they’re more likely to spread violence like a virus to others in their communities.

Crime also breeds upon itself. After serving their time, many of the individuals who are released from our prisons cannot find work and do not have the training or literacy skills to keep a job. And so, these folks quickly fall back into the criminal lifestyle to make ends meet.

Everyone knows that a man with a stable career and family is less likely to commit a crime than someone living on the edge, unable to get or keep a job.

And this is not simply a post-recession challenge. In 2007 before the recession, the unemployment rate for African American men over 25 with less than a high school diploma was 12%. In 2010, it was 24.7%.

The Great Recession has taken a toll on many Americans of all races, ages and socioeconomic positions. However, it has clearly had an irrefutable and disproportionate impact on African American men placing them at an even worse disadvantage to their peers.

*

The Federal government last looked at this problem in the late 1960s with the Kerner Commission Report, in the aftermath of national riots and cities in flames. This report read ‘our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal.’

The Commission laid out the issues and offered recommendations to overcome this violence:

  • We need better housing for black men and women outside of impoverished areas;
  • We need to invest in public education;
  • We need major public works projects that include job training;
  • We need to strengthen the safety net.

Relevant then, still relevant and needed now.

But the Federal government decided to ignore these findings and so these problems just become more and more entrenched. . . . And we still refuse to confront this challenge as a nation. We justify this with self-deception: “that’s not happening in my neighborhood”; “they’re only killing each other”; and “there’s nothing we can do about it”.

*

This is not just a Philadelphia issue. This is not just a Tallahassee issue. This is a national issue. And so we started by getting the facts to answer the question: what is happening in the streets and why?

I am partnering with mayors across the country through Cities United—a new initiative specifically aimed at addressing the causes and impact of African American male violence. Homicide is currently the leading cause of death for African American males between the ages of 15 and 24. If it were heart disease, health professionals would be studying this to find out why. . . .

This discussion includes a committed effort to stem the proliferation of illegal guns in our cities; guns which are wiping out an entire generation of African American men and boys. . . . In Philadelphia, my Administration is working closely with our District Attorney to get individuals with illegal guns off the streets. As I like to say, ‘Got a Gun, Go to Jail’. . . . I’m not talking about legally purchased guns that people use for protection. I am talking about illegal guns bought from straw purchasers and used in shootings in cities throughout America. . . .

*

These efforts on the enforcement and outreach sides can be effective. But, at the end of the day, that’s not going to keep the next generation safe. What we need to do—as cities, states and as a nation—is invest in education.

Education is our public safety strategy. Education is our poverty strategy. Education is our health strategy. Education is our economic development strategy. Education is central to everything we’re trying to accomplish.

In Philadelphia, I have set two goals:

To increase the high school graduation rate to 80% by 2015. We’re currently at 61%.

To increase the number of residents with a four year degree from 18% to 36% by 2018. Right now, we’re at about 23% attainment.

These aren’t lofty goals. They are attainable and essential targets to reach if Philadelphia is to compete nationally and internationally. . . . If more young people went to school, stayed in school, graduated and went on to training or college, we’d have less poverty, less crime, more jobs.

Every New Years Day, clergy and I visit inmates in the city prisons. I talk with them—men, women, and yes, juveniles. This year, I met a young man named Kent who is 17 years old. . . . Kent was sentenced to 7 to 20 years for four armed robberies. He told me he got about $2,000. But he also told me that he had a 3.6 GPA and scored a 1400 on his SATs. Colleges were still sending letters to his parent’s house trying to get him to apply. . . . His story is a failure by the entire system to respond to the needs of young African American men and boys.

We are leaving children behind every day in failing schools, no longer safe havens. Many simply do not offer the education and training our young people need to succeed. . . . But I strongly believe if we invest in education, we can keep our children out of prison and in college. . . .

In the last two years, Pennsylvania’s Governor has cut secondary and higher education funding by hundreds of millions of dollars, but this year, our Governor did propose an increase to the corrections budget. In Florida, Governor Scott proposed a 10% budget cut to education funding. . . . If our kids got a good education and a good job, then maybe we could actually close some prisons. . . . When did jails become a priority over schools in our country? . . .

*

And in addition to education, now is the time for adults to take responsibility for the young people in their lives. Whether it is your children, your nieces or nephews, your students, your employees or kids who live on your block, adults must be mentors.

In Philadelphia, we have started the Graduation Coaches Campaign, which gives adults the tools they need to be able to help the student in their life succeed in high school and graduate from college.

We also have a Save Summer Jobs campaign, which encourages businesses to invest in the next generation with paid jobs for young people. A summer job will help a kid to learn the value of work and to keep out of trouble.

Young people need to see how to be successful and to how to make good choices. And it is our responsibility, as adults, to be role models for them.

As President Obama said while in Philadelphia, we are working “to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America”.

This challenge is formidable, but it is not impossible. This call cannot just come from mayors. We need states, the Federal government, non-profits, stakeholders, business leaders, and residents to join together. . . .

The tragic death of Trayvon Martin sparked a conversation that needed to happen in America. But Trayvon should not have had to go to sleep for America to wake up.

It cannot end here. There are thousands of Trayvon Martins in America’s cities each year, and we need to help them. Every day, not just when it’s a hot topic on TV.

We will say what needs to be said but hasn’t been; we will do what needs to be done but hasn’t happened. Let the conversation, and the work, begin. . . .”

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