published Sunday, January 19th, 2014

Peace in the city: As MLK said: 'Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability'

It is fitting that as the nation approaches this Martin Luther King Day holiday, Chattanooga is working to find the language of community peace.

In the midst of the city’s 2013 crime surge linked to drug, gang and turf warfare, city officials in November took advantage of a years-long local drug-violence investigation to embark on what Mayor Andy Berke dubbed the Violence Reduction Initiative.

The investigation resulted in the arrests of 32 men that former Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd called the “worst of the worst” local criminals.

The initiative — in part because of that “worst of the worst” characterization — early on also seemed to be divisive. All 32 of those arrested are black men — something the community and this editorial page called questionable when a front page graphic showing 32 black mugshots made a very visual statement.

In fairness to the authorities, most of 2013’s 122 shooting incidents that injured 139 victims were the result of black-on-black crime; so yes, the people targeted by the investigations and the people arrested would most likely be black.

But arrests aren’t the only tool or intent of the city’s initiative.

That’s where the Rev. Martin Luther King’s emphasis on non-violence and the language of community peace comes into play.

The 32 arrests are the stick, but the carrot is helping the next round of young men (and women) who flirt with gang or drug violence to find a way out of that life. The outreach promised? Family help, job opportunities, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, education options — alternatives to crime.

“This is difficult stuff,” Berke acknowledged last week. “Race and violence and poverty and alcohol and drug addition and culture. I’m under no illusions really about what it means to take those on. … It’s the fear of these very sensitive subjects that leads people to do nothing. If you sit around and wait for poverty to change, there are a lot of people who are going to get shot in the meantime.”

The 32 mugshots prompted an outcry of racism in the community. But this initiative — if there is real community follow-through — has the potential to be anything but racist.

It has the potential to be a game changer, and to heal the poor race relations of Chattanooga that date back for decades and began when fewer jobs made crime a vocation.

“What we’re trying to do is be honest about the issues that exist in our community and change the equation,” Berke says.

He believes to do that the city and its residents must break down divides, especially between law enforcement and the community, and do a lot of talking to build support within the community — black and white — until the clamor is not racism, but one of a “unified, moral voice of a community who wants violence to stop.”

To achieve that, the city’s public safety coordinator, Paul Smith, has held about 100 meetings in recent months with groups such as the Urban League, NAACP, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Chattanooga Lynx, Project Pull, Clergy Koinonia and different neighborhood associations. Still on his calendar are at least a dozen more meetings with groups such as 100 Black Men. Each invitee is asked to bring along two or three others who might be interested and have influence in their neighborhood, but who may not be known by city officials.

Berke, too, is pressing the conversation.

“I talk about it everywhere I go. Sometimes three times a day … I call people on the phone who I think are actively involved in shaping community opinion and have the pulse of what’s happening … and I hear what people have to say and their concerns. And people do have concerns. There’s a long history of concerns in the community when you talk about police. … and so it’s gratifying to me to explain what the purpose and goals are so they can understand.”

Berke says there are skeptics, but he has not become discouraged.

“I’m glad there is a community discussion about how we solve the problems of violence in our community. That’s healthy. I’m glad there’s a community discussion about the ways in which police see the community and the community sees police. That’s healthy. I’m glad that we’re talking about how it is that we help people who are involved in group violence have a different outcome in their lives. That’s healthy.”

Clearly there will be no magic prevention bullet without consistent follow-through. Even then, it may be months, even years before clear change can be tallied. But Berke and the partners he’s bringing on board are understanding of that.

“What I hate to hear is helplessness,” the mayor says. “I hate to hear people say crime goes up, it goes down; as if we’re all just passive participants. The police act a certain way, the community feels a certain way; as if we’re all just along for the ride — when we can change those things. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Martin Luther King Jr. would agree. As he once said: Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”

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jjmez said...

But is Chattanooga realistic in their goals? And have they considered other likely outcomes, even when there's a breakdown in those goals? Which usually always takes place in matters like this.

The city of Philadelphia also implemented a crime reduction intiative. Look what's taken place there:

Grand Jury Probing Corruption in Phila Police Narcotics Unit. Some Of The Cops Probed Have Previous Similar Charges:

See: www.philly.com

16 year old A student, Darrin Manning, suffers ruptured testicle after brutal stop/frisk encounter with Phila cops.

see: www.philadelphia.cbslocal.com search: Darrin Manning.

The AA community is being told what they should or need to do to reduce violence in their communities, but what if anything is being said or suggested about police doing their part in addressing their own violent, bad cops on the force that are contributing factors in the rise of violence and even crime in many of these communities? Why hold back on that fact? We know it's true. We know it's a reality. We know at some point there will be a breakdown. Why is there no one honestly addressin that reality? Most all in the AA community is already aware of this reality, and that's why they hesitate to believe or trust L.E. is there to help and not do more harm.

January 19, 2014 at 10:44 a.m.

jjmez, you're blaming the rise of crime and violence on cops? yeah, right. the "black community" is responsible for their own bad behavior. Things like the "knockout game" have nothing to do with cops. You're bitching about someones ruptured testicle, when innocent people are getting their faces smashed in, and knocked out just because some black teens are bored? Address the racist and violent elements in the black community first.

January 20, 2014 at 12:30 a.m.
jjmez said...

So, zabledoofus, Conrad Alvin Barrett, the white man charged in knocking out an elderly black man in Texas as part of the so-called knockout games has suddenly turned black in your book? When did he turn black in your book? After he committed the crime?

Bad behavior? Wow! You're on a roll shuga. Bad behavior is universal and has nothing to do with race. Adam Lanza anyone? Johan Paul Franklin who went on a cross country killing spree targeting interracial couples from 1977 through 1982. You really need to get your facts straight before shooting from the hip.

And in your rationalization this is suppose to give cops, who are suppose to be professionals, the right to go out and crush an innocent young man's testicles as payback because he happens to be the same color as someone who committed a crime. Dam/N! And we wonder why America has sunken to the lowest in humanity. Just go out and kill somebody, anybody just__becuz. %(

January 20, 2014 at 9:34 a.m.
sagoyewatha said...

jjmez, at half past stupid o'clock you are sending a latrineogram about conditions in another city of another state. WAKE UP! In celebration of MLK,Jr. day right here in scenic city,totally terrible thugs managed to kill a 13 year old boy and shoot a man and his wife who were at home.Explain that one...

January 21, 2014 at 6:26 p.m.
Ki said...

Since Chattanooga's mayor is using other cities as an example for his crime reduction initiative isn't it just as important to be honest and expose the truth and any problems that exist prior to taking on such plan? Otherwise, Chattanooga will just be setting itself up for major future lawsuits, animosity, resentment and mistrust between police and the community than already exist.

January 21, 2014 at 8:34 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

Ki, if you haven't noticed, animosity, resentment and mistrust characterize the perpetrators of these crimes. They are fed that pap from birth to avoid any personal responsibility for their criminal acts. It is no different in any other city. This is all about behavior and the only way to change that is to stop providing the public with models of violent behavior...a reality no one wishes to discuss. Those who continue to speak about race and/or the police as causes are simply unintelligent, uneducated and uninformed.

January 22, 2014 at 8:50 a.m.
Ki said...

Who are "they" sagoyewatha? They've been found and arrested? If you don't know who "they" are how can you know what they've been fed? Who expects to gain from this? There're lots of federal funding banking on forcing this initiative through one way or the other. The ones to benefit the least are the people in these communities that have been targeted.

January 22, 2014 at 2:14 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

You know who "they" are,Ki. It is always the same. You are not seriously interested in solving the problem, you just want to listen to the sound of your stupidity.

January 22, 2014 at 6:54 p.m.
Ki said...

The black community has left itself so wide open that it doesn't know who's coming in doing what. There are so many fraction fighting for control that these communities have become like a smaller version of Africa over five hundred years later; ripped, torn, ravished, raped, decimated by war caused by outsiders. Africa, where powerful nations are fighting to control the abundance of natural resources and wonders that exist on the continent.

January 23, 2014 at 7:21 a.m.
sagoyewatha said...

That's right, Ki. Even in Africa no one is responsible for the same problems they've had ever since there were Africans. All problems are someone else's fault. Wise up, chump, it is all about behavior not race or country of origin. I know for a fact the violence being perpetrated in this city is not being done by Africans. Another one last night, stabbed nearly to death. Probably done by space aliens?

January 23, 2014 at 8:38 a.m.
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