Following up on a successful town hall meeting in 2005, five separate meetings have been organized to examine justice and accountability of community-centered policing issues in depth, organized by the Third World Press Foundation, based on the book, The Covenant.
On Aug. 19, “Covenants III and IV” was held at the Progressive Community Center of People’s Church, 45 E. 48th St., from 1 to 4 p.m. Vice president of Third World Press, Bennett Johnson, moderated a panel discussion conducted by attorneys James Montgomery and Stan Willis; Howard Saffold, president/CEO, Positive Anti-Crime Thrust, Inc.; and Willie “J.R.” Fleming, chairman of Hip Hop Congress.
This town hall-style meeting was intended to help enlighten African Americans and enable them to help police their own communities.
“African Americans continue to face many injustices because of the unfairness in the legal system,” stated criminal defense attorney Willis, who noted that they have taken the torture issue international. “We presented evidence to the Commission on Human Rights in October where we were very well received. We felt the need to have the world community chime in on what is happening with African Americans in the United States. We’ve gone to the United Nations and put on evidence of torture and now the whole world is aware. The United Nations compared torture in Chicago to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and telling the United States you better do something about it. We have a long road ahead of us. I think we’re getting to the core of it if we continue to do monitoring. We need to change the laws.”
James Montgomery addressed the audience after speaker Wallace “Gator” Bradley’s intense description of the police system and response from leaders. “I have heard female versus male, rich versus poor, old versus young, suits versus non-suits-we’re falling into the trap when we do that. What we have in common is we all wear the same mask and “the man” beats our butts because of the mask we wear, and because we have that in common, let’s deal with stuff we have in common. In order to organize and do something we have to have discipline and respect for each other.”
Many in the audience who spoke were ex-offenders, who explained how often they are ostracized by black leaders and are not allowed to sit at the table to discuss issues. Explaining that because they had served time, there are lessons and experiences that can be utilized by the generations coming behind them.
All the panelists agreed that they are willing to be inclusive and wanted to have dialogue with the young men.
One young man who has been able to reach them is T.J. Crawford, aka Theoretic, the MC and lead planner of the 2006 National Hip Hop Political Convention, held in Chicago this July. As a student at Morehouse College, he became involved in student government and numerous off-campus activities. He is the lead coordinator of the Chicago organizing committee for the National Hip Hop Political Convention and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois’ Jacob Carruthers Center. Crawford gave the opening welcome for the town hall meeting as well as the keynote address.
Howard Saffold, one of the founders of the Afro-American Police League, said he was very interested in what the younger people had to say, and he and participants exchanged thoughts on the justice system.
An activist known as “Mama Dee” pointed out that women need to be on the panels when town hall meetings occur. She noted that black women also are victims of police brutality and are being incarcerated in large numbers. According to the book, “The Covenant,” black women born today are five times more likely to go to prison in their lifetime than black women born in 1975. Also the book states, “One in every 18 black women born today can expect to go to jail in her lifetime; this is six times the rate for white women.”
In Part IV of the series, Fostering Accountable Community-Centered Policing, the panel discussion related statistics from the book, The Covenant, such as the following: “There are a reported 72 citizen oversight boards across the country, but close to 13,500 state and local law enforcement agencies. This means only 0.5 percent of police departments are regularly monitored by the community. Fifty-seven percent of black officers believe that police officers are more likely to use physical violence against African Americans than against white people, while only 5 percent of white law enforcement officers agree.”
Further meetings examining other Covenant issues are scheduled for Aug. 26, Sept. 9 and Sept. 16. The Covenant was published by Third World Press, which was founded in 1967 by Haki R. Madhubuti and two close associates. In March 2006, Third World Press became the first African-American-owned publishing house to have a book on the New York Times Bestseller list. The introduction is by Tavis Smiley.