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Citywide summit to tackle Black-on-Black violence

18th June 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

New Orleans-based anti-violence advocates, led by the Rev. Tom Watson, will host a summit June 28–29 on the impact of police brutality and the city’s stubborn homicide rate on Black male residents. Dubbed “Rage in New Orleans: Combating Black-on-Black Homicides and Police Issues,” the conference will empanel area experts for a discussion moderated by WDSU news anchor Norman Robinson, adopt and send recommendations for best practices to police and government officials and feature a presentation by former Louisiana State University professor Dr. Leonard Moore on the intersection of police-on-citizen violence and the response of Black New Orleanians over the years through activism. New Orleans police chief Ronal Serpas has been invited to attend this event.

Watson says the two-day symposium will depart from previous summits designed to address the social and political health of Black males in New Orleans because it is a faith-centered approach that will partner with government and civic stakeholders to achieve its goals. “The uniqueness is that it is a faith-based effort for the most part and in terms of Black-on-Black homicides, there aren’t many faith-based programs that are confronting this issue.” Watson is the senior pastor of Watson Memorial Teaching Ministries and has been a mainstay of political, social and religious life in New Or­leans for than 30 years.

He stresses, however, that the aim of the summit and any subsequent programs is not to apply strictly theological solutions to the city’s crime and enforcement difficulties. “We’re not just saying come to church or be a part of our ministry,” adding, “Our business is not just church.” Instead, Watson says, “Based on our expertise, we intend to partner with the appropriate agencies to put a dent in this issue. Government can only do so much because governments change and may not always have access to the same resources – but the faith-based community will be here no matter what.”

This year alone, the city has tallied more than 20 force-related complaints involving police shootings, according to a spokesperson for the city’s Independent Police Monitor, and the murder rate has stretched into the dozens. Data for the number of non-shooting force-related police complaints from the city’s Public Integrity Bureau were not available at press time.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has made tackling New Orleans’ homicide rate a centerpiece of his administration’s efforts to improve the quality of life for city residents. Calling it “the single most important issue facing our city,” Landrieu and his department heads will receive recommendations following a “think-tank” community meeting at the summit where stakeholders will hammer out “how [to improve] police relationships in the Black community and [bridge] the gap between the police and Black males,” according to a press release detailing the event.

But Watson says many of the tools needed to address crime and police relations, including some of those that will come from the summit’s recommendations, are not “brand new” ideas. “We’ve got to go back to the seventies and eighties to [find ideas] to help curb this stuff,” he adds, referring to tactics such as community-based policing used to curb violence in some of the city’s housing projects years ago.

New Orleans, Watson insists, is a “tale of two cities.” One in which some residents believe “everything is fine” while others are afraid to leave their homes. Watson and like-minded advocates intend to bring the issue to the forefront and “not simply host another summit.”

The Rev. Raymond Brown, foun­der of National Action Now, commended Watson Memorial Teaching Ministries for hosting the event and said that any lasting change in the Black homicide rate must come from those within communities of color who have a vested interest in uplifting and empowering Black people. “While we didn’t create the conditions that led to this problem of epidemic proportion, it is up to us to find lasting solutions that take into account the viewpoints of all of the community’s stakeholders,” Brown told The Louisiana Weekly. “It is each of us with the power to make a difference who will be held accountable if we can do or say something to effect positive change but do nothing. Whether we accept the responsibility or not, we are our brothers’ keepers.”

New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate Ramessu Merriamen Aha agreed, adding “We can’t let anyone outside of our community dictate to us how we should go about addressing a problem that disproportionately affects us. For any individual or agency to say that they are interested in solving the problem but refuse to change the way business is routinely done is New Orleans is disingenuous at best and sinister at worst. Decisive action speaks loaders than words, The best thing the larger society can do to change this situation for the better is expand economic and educational opportunities for people of color and ensure that Black people enjoy equal protection under the law. Those things will have a snowball effect on the Black community and begin moving it in the right direction. But it’s important to point out that by doing those things, the larger society is not doing Black people a favor; it is simply in the best interest of the entire city to create a climate in which all of the city’s residents can grow, develop their talents and achieve self-actualization.”

The summit begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday June 28, at Watson Memorial Teaching Ministries located at 4422 St. Charles Avenue.

Additionally, the summit will showcase programs and interventions that work along with a general audience response to these issues. A community Think Tank meeting will be held Friday, June 29, from 10:00 a.m. until noon.

Dr. Leonard Moore currently serves as professor and VP of Academic Diversity at the University of Texas at Austin. He is widely considered one of the nation’s foremost experts on the topic of Black males and police brutality. His provocative research in this area has garnered national attention as he has been featured on “60 Minutes,” CNN, ESPN, ESPN2, and National Public Radio. He is the author of the book Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality and African-American Activism From World War II to Hurricane Katrina. Additionally, The New York Times featured him in a cover story in 2005 for his work with Black males on the LSU football team. Prior to leaving LSU in 2007, he launched a Saturday school for middle-school Black males in Baton Rouge’s toughest and most challenging neighborhood. Dr. Moore has also served as the pastor of two congregations.

For more than 18 years, the Watson Memorial Family Center of Hope, a non-profit faith-based organization, has convened the Greater New Orleans community on issues related to the plight of the Black male. Additionally, the organization has proven intervention models such as Project RESTORE, which helps to prevent recidivism of adjudicated male youth.

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article was originally published in the June 18, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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