Stop the Violence


The violence in Chicago is escalating at a speed that boggles the mind. Reports would have you to believe that it is not so. They give you percentages and dialogue which is hard to believe. They say that gun crimes are especially down. But there are over 200 million guns on the street and it is easy to get for anyone who wants one. Violence is violence and the violent people do not always use a gun. There are a lot of different organizations being formed to help to stop the violence. I checked out a few.

The Committee Against Racism and Violence is the first one I attended. The meeting was held at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren St., on May 3. This was the second Public Hearing on Violence with the support of U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-7). The purpose of the meeting was to hear the testimony of people who had experienced any type of violence against them: family violence, youth violence, police brutality or Black-on-Black violence. Chicago Black United Communities (CBUC) sponsored the event in affiliation with the Million Man March Metropolitan Planning Committee, the National Black United Front (NBUF), the Nation of Islam, state Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago) and the Task Force for Political Empowerment.

The testimonials were given by anyone who has been a victim of violence. The plan is to help them in any way possible. The organization is planning to go to Geneva, Switzerland, to present the United Nations with NBUF’s Declaration of Genocide by the United States Government against the Black population in the United States. Dr. Conrad W. Worrill is the national chairman of NBUF.

The National Coalition to Stop Violence, the Horner Association of Men, the Midwest Community Council, the Westside NAACP, Rockwell Local Advisory Council, the Rockwell Resident Management Corporation, the Inner City Youth Foundation, the 29th Ward People’s Assembly, United In Peace, T&R General Contractors, the 3100 W. Fulton Block Club, Young People United to Save a Lost Generation, Committeeman Calvin Omar Johnson, Fillmore Christian House Of Prayer, One In A Million Youth Service Committee, Heritage of Christ M.B. Church, Mahaneh Yisrael Community Organization, Chicago Area Project, the Coalition to Protect Public Housing, Nearwest Environment Council, the N.E.W.S., Crusaders of Justice, P.E.A.C.E., Williams Youth Foundation, Ben Radar Youth Foundation and Williams Youth Services also supported the march.

Saturday, May 17, was the day of an annual anti-violence parade themed “We Charge Genocide.” The people were assembled at Laramie and Madison streets at 10 a.m. They stepped off from there and marched to Central Park where they held the rally, listened to keynote speakers, enjoyed cultural program festivities and held a raffle drawing.

We met at the Criminal Courts, 2600 S. California Ave., on May 11 in the parade for the Mothers Day Vigil for Justice. The organizations Justice is Blind and People Against Police Brutality and Injustice sponsored that event. These organizations act as a support network for individuals and families who have been victimized by police.

Statistics released by these groups show that by the time many Black and Latinos reach their teen years, they have had some type of encounter with the legal system, ranging from being stopped by the police to already having served a prison sentence. Studies show that Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be arrested and have bail set at higher rates than whites. They receive heavier sentences than whites for the same types of crimes.

Over 90 percent of the defendants charged with capital crimes in Chicago are poor and cannot afford an attorney, according to Justice to Blind. They are forced to use badly overworked public defenders. Each public defender handles an average of 434 cases per year.

Sitting in Judgement--Jury members listen attentively as prosecution and defense teams make their cases at the Mock Trial, held June 14 at the University of Chicago Law School. The event is sponsored each year by CHA's Resident Organization Department.

This combination of conditions results in broken families and homes, displacement of family members and financial hardships caused by astronomical legal fees, huge telephone bills and the need to send funds to loved ones in prison. This creates mental and physical stress.

Some of us are beginning to see the violence/crime issue as a class issue: rich against the poor.

On May 14, I attended a march on City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St., for just one of these injustices. The marchers told the City Council that police brutality must stop. They marched for Jorge Guillen, a mentally ill man who died during a confrontation with police in 1996.

Before the march on City Hall, I heard Guillen’s wife describe her husband’s death at the testimonials session on May 3. Guillen’s wife said she had called the police because her husband had run out of medicine which was necessary to calm him down. She hoped that police would either subdue him or take him to the hospital. But when the officers arrived, they immediately threw him to the floor. Rather than restrain him, one of the officers placed his foot on Guillen’s neck. Guillen eventually choked to death. Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine recently announced that he would not prosecute the officers because of a lack of evidence that the officers acted inappropriately.

But at the City Hall march, Guillen’s wife said she was marching exactly because the officers involved in her husband’s death were still on the force. The marchers also discussed the case of Streetwise vendor Joseph Gould, who was killed by an off-duty police officer last year. That officer, Gregory Becker, is serving a prison sentence for that crime. The marchers also mentioned Bilal Ashraf, a South Side resident, and teenager Angel Castro, both of whom died during recent confrontations with police, according to Justice is Blind.

Mayor Richard Daley’s staff told the marchers they would look into the incidents. The marchers left the building with nothing to look forward to, feeling that the mayor’s message translated to “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Justice is Blind also is fighting for Andre Ester, who was arrested at the age of 17 and has spent over two years in jail waiting for his day in court. Fountaine Richardson was arrested at the age of 18 on a murder charge. He was released after 22 months because of lack of evidence. Anton Sedgwick argued with the police officers about the O.J. Simpson verdict. A few hours later, Sedgwick was found hanging in his cell. Police officers deemed it a suicide.

Racial tension in Chicago has caught the attention of Chicago’s new archbishop, Francis George. Before leaving on a recent trip to Rome, George told local media that his most important topic of conversation with Pope John Paul II would be about racism in Chicago. George added that he will focus particularly on housing issues.

Police-related violence has been a Chicago issue for a long time. I recall meeting now-U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1) in 1969 at the funeral of Gene Lewis, who was killed by police officers in the hallway in the old courthouse building, 2600 S. California Ave., during the day while court was in session. Lewis was a convicted murderer who had been in a courtroom when he suddenly pulled out a handgun from a book given to him by a friend. After using the gun to back out of the courtroom, he was shot 26 times by police who had been waiting in the hallway. He never fired a shot.

Back then, Rush was a member of the Black Panthers. At Lewis’ funeral, I also met Elijah Muhammad, who led the Nation of Islam until his death in 1975. Muhammad later became my son’s God Father. After Gene Lewis’ death, metal detectors were installed in the criminal court building’s lobby.

My father came to Chicago in the ‘40s for a better life. After my brother started going to jail, my father thought about sending him back to the South. But the brutal murder of Emmett Till made my father change his mind. My brother suffered from greed and often took what we wanted without paying for it. But he wasn’t a murderer. And many times when he returned from jail, his face was swollen from the beatings he received. When I would ask him about the swelling, he said police officers beat him with the butts of their guns through a telephone book. The punishment didn’t fit the crime. But my father worried that my brother would be killed if he was down South. My brother was between a rock and a hard place. It ended with my brother taking his own life in 1971, just two weeks after he had begged us to get him out of jail one last time.

What kind of strategies and organizations are needed to create a society that serves the human need, not private profit?

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