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AllEyesOnDC

Building a Black Nation, One Post at a Time

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October 2015

Residents, Activists Weigh In On Mayor Bowser’s Policing Proposal

The sounds of protesters’ chants and police sirens caught Aaliyah Ruffin’s ear on what was otherwise a quiet night in Congress Heights. Moments later, she, along with some family members, stepped out on the front lawn and watched as a swarm of protesters marched along Alabama Avenue with signs, banners, and bullhorns in hand.

More than a week after taking to the streets for Jason Goolsby — a University of District Columbia student violently detained by officers outside of a bank in Eastern Market — members of Black Lives Matter DMV and other groups rallied against D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to curb violent crime they say unfairly targets ex-offenders. The pandemonium took place on the eve of a D.C. Council hearing about the proposal for increased police powers.

For Aaliyah, the controversy surrounding the mayor’s proposal brought to mind her yearlong school project about the hurdles returning citizens face in their transition to physical freedom.

“I’ve decided to write about discrimination against ex-convicts because I see it everywhere,” Aaliyah, 17, a senior at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy, told AllEyesOnDC. “Returning citizens have already done their time. I know the state has to keep close watch on them but [they have to] trust them. Some [of these] people are just trying to get over their past. They should be given a second chance to prove themselves to society.”

Tuesday night’s activity counted among a bevy of on-the-ground efforts to combat and raise awareness about Bowser’s proposal. Amid a spike in homicides this summer, she asked the D.C. Council to “close some gaps in our laws” she says allow ex-offenders to commit violent crime. By the time Bowser announced her plan in August, 103 homicides have taken place, two shy of the 2014 total.

If the proposal passes, parolees and those on probation are subject to increased supervision and post-release searches by the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) and other entities. Those who violate the terms of their release could be taken into police custody for up to 72 hours. Police union representatives told the Washington Post that armed officers would be on site to detain them. More than 10,000 people would be affected.

Aaron Goggans, founding member of Black Lives Matter DMV, said the law will further marginalize D.C.’s black communities. He told AllEyesOnDC that the mayor and D.C. Police Chief Kathy Lanier have ignored the capitalism and white supremacy that breeds the violence engulfing the city.

Members of the Black Lives Matter DMV interrupted Bowser on the day she announced the plan. Since then, they have reached out to returning citizens’ advocacy groups and residents while advocating for more of a restorative justice mode that takes into account the trauma people in impoverished communities often face. “The people most affected by these draconian laws will be those living in black communities in Southeast. We wanted to canvass and raise awareness to let folks know that the bill might go through,” Goggans said.

“It’s a continuous drama for folks who haven’t been given the appropriate time and resources. We have to re-frame the problem and find constructive ways to build up communities,” Goggans added. “The population affected [by this policing program] is wide. Returning citizens can’t afford to live on their own in D.C. so they live with the relatives. So when cops go in for searches, it affects entire families. We have to build an understanding with folks in power. We’re in this for the long haul.”

Some residents, however, aren’t too enthusiastic about the efforts of Black Lives Matter DMV and other advocacy groups, often describing many of them as outsiders not directly affected by the local violence.

Donna L. Watts, a 20-year resident of the Fairlawn neighborhood in Southeast, said those who oppose Bowser’s proposal haven’t read it in its entirety, telling AllEyesOnDC that keeping the peace should be a priority. Watts, a self-described “conservative from the South,” arguments about poverty and lack of opportunity don’t suffice.

“The proposed legislation should be in effect until for a pre-determined period of time fairly measuring its effectiveness of non-effectiveness. If it is proven to not work, those opposed will have the benefit of not hearing an elected official bring it up again,” Watts, a self-described “conservative from the South” said, adding that arguing this point to detractors often proves futile.

“If I made a decision that got me tangled in the criminal justice system, I can’t see where I have the room to ask for rights beyond the basic human rights,” she said. “There are plenty of families raised with on low-to-no budgets and the lack of capital was not a reason to go on a make bad life-altering decisions. Send offenders to a Turkish prison, or allow all of our U.S. prisons to be privatized, then take a second look at today’s’ criminal justice tactics before picking up a picket sign against it.”

However, some D.C. Council members and legal experts disagree, saying Bowser’s plan would erode trust between law enforcement and people living in the District’s most crime ridden neighborhoods. During Wednesday morning’s hearing. D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) said the city needs to address crime as public health emergency and devote more resources to community building.

Southeast resident David Allen shares those sentiments.

Allen, a 65-year-old retired surveyor, counted among the many who pounded the pavement on Tuesday evening. Recounting his experiences as a troubled youngster and that of nephews who have come into contact with the D.C. police, Allen expressed a desire for city leaders to provide offenders, young and old, with options beyond punishment.

“When they had this all-hands-on-deck mentality, more killings happened. We don’t need any more of the law. We need humanity,” Allen told AllEyesOnDC. “The police have a lack of respect. They are legalized gangs so it’s up to us mothers and fathers to take back our communities. [Where are the] skills development programs. We don’t have any trade schools around here. [The police] can no longer have the carrot-and-stick method. Give us a third option.”

Thoughts of Millennials Who Didn’t Attend ‘Justice or Else’

Courtesy of Indianz.com
Courtesy of Indianz.com
Earlier this month, thousands of people of African descent converged on Downtown D.C. to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. The event, themed “Justice or Else!” attracted black men, women, and children from across the country eager to take the fight against police brutality and systemic racism to the next level.

The hype around the mass rally, however, didn’t prove enough to convince some young people to support the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and Nation of Islam (NOI) on October 10. Those who stayed home did so out of disdain for the NOI’s views on women and homosexuality, and skepticism about the event’s effectiveness.

“Min. Farrakhan is indoctrinating people who are looking up to him [when he says] homosexuals are not sane and he calls them swine,” entry level professional and local activist Maronel Stewart told AllEyesOnDC, referring to YouTube videos of speeches she watched. “That could be a hindrance to our brothers and sisters opening up to members of the LGBTQ community.”

The decision to sit out of “Justice or Else!” didn’t come quickly for Stewart, who initially planned to participate with her boyfriend as an act of black resistance. But as she learned more about Min. Farrakhan’s take on issues related to black women and gay rights, attending the march in solidarity with her brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community seemed like a conflict of interest.

So she forwent the march, choosing instead to deep condition her hair and eat breakfast in her pajamas while watching re-runs of The Simpsons. In a Facebook post earlier that week, Stewart railed against those who overlooked what she described as Min. Farrakhan’s misogyny and homophobia for the “bigger picture.”

“How could you claim that you support the black community when you ignore the disrespect of women and LGBTQ people in our community for the ‘sake of the movement’? There’s no room for hate.” Stewart, 22, said.

“In one of Farrakhan’s speeches, he said professional women were failures and they couldn’t be happy without men,” she said. “In another he implied women need to be dressed a certain way to be respected. These are ideas that shouldn’t be promoted by a leader in the black community. He has a responsibility to be inclusive and respectful of black women and LBGTQ people. That’s just something I didn’t see from him.”

Stewart’s sentiments echoed that of some Millennials who felt conflicted about “Justice or Else!” but attended anyway out of an obligation to support Min. Farrakhan and NOI. However, for some who made that choice, parts of his more than 3-hour speech didn’t sit well.

While Aaron Goggans, campaign coordinator at the DC Employment Justice Center, said he enjoyed seeing the exchange of black dollars on the National Mall, he took to social media to criticize Min. Farrakhan’s call for women to “sacrifice themselves for their offspring because they’re genetically programmed to do so.“ He, too, noticed a seemingly blatant disregard for black women’s control over their bodies.

Popular blogger TheNewAfrican also grappled with her decision to attend the march, saying it showed her that much work remains to be done to address the complexity of blackness she said elders often gloss over. In her Tumblr post, titled “Reflections on the Million Man March,” she too criticized Farrakhan’s diatribe against abortion and called on members of the black community to unlearn oppressive behavior that hinders the present-day movement.

In the weeks leading up to the march, NOI, along with other organizations, rallied support among black women during panel discussions at Galbraith A.M.E. Zion Church in Northwest and Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast. Even there, the organization’s conservative messages often clashed with those that resonate with young black women.

Tia Dolet, president of the Black Graduate Student Association at University of Maryland, College Park, faced a similar dilemma when she attended campus forums about the state of the black male population. She said that when it came to matters of academic achievement, some panelists placed blame on the young women, telling them to help their brothers more.

Fatigued of male-centered dialogue that didn’t acknowledge women’s significant role in today’s movement, Dolet decided to sit out of “Justice or Else!” She mulled over her choice with her fellow executive members, many of whom were either black women or members of the LBGTQ community. She later recounted reading criticisms of Min. Farrakhan’s speech on social media and hearing the stories of friends leaving in the droves.

“It’s always about attending these mass gatherings but never about protecting our issues,” Dolet told AllEyesOnDC. “I get upset when you try to get people to rally after something happens to a black woman and they don’t show up. We put our gender on the back burner and are starting to understand that it has to be addressed. I feel some type of way when black male leaders ignore us and place blame on us for whatever reason.”

Like Stewart, Dolet remained resolute in articulating her point of view among those sympathetic to Min. Farrakhan’s cause. She said productive dialogue came out of that, with some young black men understanding the importance of intersectionality, defined as the crossing of different forms of oppression.

“A few black men have been receptive to the idea of inclusiveness and intersections,” she said. “We have to make sure that everyone gets a hashtag. It starts with a conversation and looking at the dynamics to understand why we march for some and not for others. There are gender issues in the black community.”

Even with a post-march meeting, outline of demands, and a call to boycott corporations during the holiday season, some Millennials who didn’t attend the march see little value in asking the oppressor for justice.

Bowie State University student Amadu Jalloh, suspicious of the NOI’s involvement in the assassination of famed member Malcolm X, said attending “Justice or Else!” would have went against everything the late activist represented. Against his friends’ wishes, he worked on the day of the march, criticizing NOI’s inclusion of other oppressed others he said have seen relatively more progress.

“We can never be in our space because we need the approval and validation of other races. That’s one thing I’ve noticed,” Jalloh told AllEyesOnDC. “We need to focus on ourselves. Those other groups are treated as humans, but we’re not. This was a big social meeting, not a rally for justice. I would have liked to see more black unity. If it’s a march about inequality, then it should have been us. It’s very important to see ourselves in this struggle.”

UDC Students Find Hope In Tony Lewis, Jr.’s Message

 

By his 11th birthday, Tony Lewis, Jr.’s father, alleged head of a D.C. drug syndicate, had served nearly two years of a life sentence in a federal penitentiary on the other side of the country. HIs mother also developed what would later be diagnosed as schizophrenia. Even with the guidance of a loving grandmother, Lewis said he navigated life in the District with his street smarts during a time when the city gained a reputation as the “murder capital.”

Decades later, Lewis, college graduate and community activist, reflected on those childhood experiences in “Slugg: A Boy’s Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” a book that has been heralded as a coming-of-age story for those trying to find their way.  He recently discussed his published work, childhood memories, and current events during an event at University of the District of Columbia (UDC) in Northwest, his alma mater and an institution that has given countless  Washingtonians a pathway to a better life.

“In my life of service, I get asked this question of how I didn’t fall into this trap,” Lewis told Dr. George Derek Musgrove, professor at University of Maryland Baltimore County and moderator at Wednesday night’s discussion. “Many people in my community succumbed to addiction, prison, [and violence]. I’m still trying to figure out the process and chart out how I became a respected activist. The way I could connect with people was being transparent. My story helped people see the greatness in themselves,” Lewis added.

More than 200 students, professors, and D.C. residents filed into UDC’s Theater of the Arts for the two-hour event that included a question-and-answer segment and cupcake social. Audience members watched as a  montage of Lewis family photos played from a projector. During the discussion,  Lewis and Musgrove discussed violent crime in D.C. during the 1980s and 1990s, the school-to-prison pipeline, discrimination of returning citizens, and the lasting effects of mass incarceration.

Such conversation provided Lewis the opportunity to reflect on his life experiences, give historical context to his father’s incarceration, and rail against the forces he said vilify poor black people for decisions they make out of desperation.

“America took the African–American drug dealer and voided him of his humanity. My father wasn’t a bad person. He just made bad decisions,” Lewis said. “ When [mass incarceration] is so entrenched in your community, you don’t really see it as a bad thing. Two of my cousins are serving more than 40 years in prison. The title of the book isn’t to catch you on to something. It’s to show you that people from my childhood are either dead or in prison.”

Lewis, a community star of sorts, found fans in the audience that evening.

Christopher Mitchell said Lewis’ story challenged a misconception that UDC is a subpar institution. Mitchell, a freshman at UDC, enrolled in a tech training program at Year Up shortly after graduating from Friendship Collegiate Academy in 2012. However, failed attempts to gain employment drove him to enroll at UDC, where he’s currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, a field he said piques his interest.

“Being at UDC makes me feel great. It’s good seeing people adding to their life and doing something constructive,” Mitchell told AllEyesOnDC. “ This school allows people who can’t afford an out-of-state college education to live their dream. Tony Lewis, Jr. broke down so much and made these concepts simple so that people could understand it. That’s how I could relate.”

Latanya Rogers, professor of literature at UDC, shared Mitchell’s sentiments. She told AllEyesOnDC that, unlike marquee academics, her students could see Lewis in themselves.

“This is a nontraditional campus so our students are familiar with that crossroads experience where they have to make that choice,” Rogers said. “The lesson for them will be in what factors helped Tony Lewis, Jr. choose the right path when he had so many opportunities to go the wrong way. Also, he’s so relatable. He’s not a big shot telling people what to do.”

Though he graduated from Gonzaga College High School in 1998,  Lewis said it would be years before he appreciated the value of a college degree. During the event, he told Musgrove that studying alongside men and women decades his senior at UDC inspired him to complete his studies. In 2004, he graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in urban studies. He also attained a certificate in nonprofit management, a tool in his effort to help at-risk youth and ex-offenders.

Anika Spratley Burtin, professor of education at UDC, said stories like Lewis’ inspire her work at the university. Burtin started her tenure at UDC in 2012 after working at Johns Hopkins. During her interview with AllEyesOnDC, she too challenged fallacies about the university, saying that students’ desire to better their lives compels academics to leave flagship institutions to teach there.

“Hard-working staff and academics come here to change lives. UDC provides an opportunity for our students to [determine] their life trajectory,” Burtin told AllEyesOnDC. “If our students are native to the area, what does that say about our community? They should see UDC as a beacon. You can get a quality education and make your dreams come true.”

Mikey Dee Talks Music Career, Life, and D.C. Issues

D.C. hip-hop artist Mikey Dee visits AllEyesOnDC and discusses his career, locally coveted Metro tour, and the intricacies of the music business.

Hip-Hop Lyricist Competition Comes to D.C.

Sam P.K. Collins interviews Jeff Mimms of Jack’n for Beats and Chicago hip-hop artist Sinatris about a contest in the D.C. area for aspiring artists.

Local Business Owners Talk about Their Journey

Four local business owners/financial advisers visited AllEyesOnDC in September 2015 to discuss their foray into business before dozens of people of various ages and professional backgrounds.

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