We ARE we

Ayoola Mitchell

by Ayoola Mitchell

On the first of January this year, 2009, a very tragic event took place. Oscar Grant was murdered by a BART police officer as he rode BART home from a New Year’s Eve celebration. This crime gained national media attention and united a community as people, from various walks of life, came together to demonstrate, voice their righteous indignation and demand justice.

People protested, marched, rallied and attended numerous community meetings. With great passion, anger and conviction, the people spoke and made it clear that the officer who was responsible, BART police and Oakland city officials were going to be held accountable for this tragic, murderous act.

Witnesses who were present gave statements and those whose cell phones had not be confiscated as evidence at the scene voluntarily gave up their video footage. People were outraged, as they should have been. The pressure was on the District Attorney’s Office to charge the officer with murder and there was a demand for a special, independent investigation. There were rallies and press conferences.

Thirty days later, on Jan. 30, my son was shot 17 times and his friend was murdered. There were no marches. There were no rallies. There were no protests. And no witnesses gave any statements resulting in any arrest. In fact, between Oscar Grant’s murder on Jan. 1 and Ronald Benjamin’s murder on Jan. 30 there were six homicides in San Francisco, two homicides in Richmond and three homicides in Oakland. Ironically, this number does not include Oscar Grant’s death because for Department of Justice reporting purposes it is listed under BART police statistics.

For these murders, there were no marches. There were no rallies. There were no protests. Few if any witnesses gave statements. Very few arrests if any were made. It is often said, in the communities where these murders take place, everybody knows everything but nobody saw anything.

Was Oscar Grant’s life more valuable than all the other homicide victims? Was the community outraged because he was killed at the hands of a police officer? As long as the victims and perpetrators are from the same communities, do we not need to protest, march, demand justice and give statements?

This stark contrast has bothered me for months. I have gone back and forth a hundred times regarding writing on this subject. I did not want this concern to be misconstrued as somehow being disrespectful to the memory of Mr. Grant or diminish the circumstances surrounding his death.

In our communities, as homicide rates increase and the intensity and frequency of violence continues to rise, we must look introspectively – at our communities and ourselves. What message are WE sending to our youth, our communities and our nation when we are outraged by one murder but not EVERY murder in our community?

We can no longer support the double standard in the loss of life. We have become double minded and in doing so we have devalued our worth and the lives of our young people.

Who is this “we” I refer to? Everyone who lives in and has moved out of the communities being plagued by violence. Everyone whose life has been interrupted, disrupted and erupted by violence. And for those very few whose lives have not been touched directly or indirectly by it.

We have all heard yesterday’s African proverb which has become today’s cliché: “It takes a village to raise a child.” I heard a very profound twist to this statement when the question was posed, “But who has raised the village?”

It is not enough to tell our young people to get off the block when we aren’t offering them a gym, youth center or other alternative to the block. Yes, change begins with the individual. Yes, if they don’t change the way they think, they are not going to change the way they act. However, how can change occur without the tools, resources and support to sustain that change?

There are many who are quick to say that today’s young people have a total disregard for human life because of the brazenness and callousness of the crimes which are committed. Could that sentiment be rooted in a feeling of being disregarded, if not discarded?

I make no excuses for nor condone criminal acts, violent or otherwise. However, that Friday night as I drove those 30-plus minutes to the hospital, not knowing the fate of my son, I clearly remember thinking what happens to or in someone’s life that results in them becoming perpetrators of such violent crimes.

Yes, we should be outraged when police kill our young people. However, we should be equally outraged when our young people kill each other. We should be equally outraged at the availability of automatic weapons in our communities. We should be equally outraged by the selective charging by county district attorney’s offices. We should be equally outraged by the disparity in education between Richmond and Danville, between Oakland and Pleasanton.

Our communities must seek solutions to the violence. And yes, we can make a difference. There were those who believed slavery wouldn’t be abolished. There were those who believed Jim Crow laws wouldn’t be struck down. There were those who didn’t believe Blacks would be granted the right to vote. There were those who didn’t believe an African American would be elected president of the United States. And there are those who believe our young people are a lost cause.

However, OUR history is about defying odds, persevering and demanding change – but only after we were outraged and had had enough. Have we had enough yet?

Whereas the problems lie in our communities, likewise, the solutions lie in our communities also. We have to be willing to reach back, give back and go back. If we still live there, we have to be willing to become a presence and a voice.

Find the organizations, churches and people who are working in the trenches and get involved. Be willing to give of your time, your talents, your resources to make a difference in the life of someone who is where you used to be or where you never had to go.

Together we can evoke change in our communities. It won’t be a quick fix. It won’t be any one plan, person or program. It will take work, perseverance, commitment and the faith and belief that the odds and statistics being pronounced on our young people and our communities can and will be defied. Are you willing to be part of the solution?

Ayoola Mitchell is founder of educate2elevate, an organization committed to working with inmates and their families to maintain healthy relationships and reduce recidivism. She is also a graduate of The Omega Training Institute and practitioner of San Francisco’s Omega Boys Club’s nationally recognized violence prevention methodology. Contact educate2elevate by writing to 3710 Lone Tree Way #212, Antioch, CA 94509 or emailing educating2elevate@gmail.com.