A man holds a sign while walking down Market Street during a protest against police brutality in Philadelphia this month.

A man holds a sign while walking down Market Street during a protest against police brutality in Philadelphia this month.

Photo by Durrell Hospedale

Former Mayor Nutter: Let’s harness Black Lives Matter for change

The question today is, “Where Do We Go From Here?” — and how do we turn awareness into action, protest into programs and reaction into reform

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?’ “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

And the cycle of killing and violence has continued ever since. Black men killed in the street, by their own brothers or sometimes by Police Officers. Police Officers slain in the street, by fellow citizens. Last week, we all watched in horror, sorrow and shock one of the worst weeks of violence and racial polarization in a long time. As the marches and protests continued for the Black men killed by Police Officers, and on this solemn day of mourning and memorial for the five Dallas Police Officers killed by a Black man, Americans are forced to reflect on our fundamental values of the meaning of liberty and freedom. The liberty to live our lives with dignity and respect, and the freedom to live without fear and discrimination.

Americans, of all colors, need good professional Police Officers to “serve and protect.” Police Officers need law abiding citizens to “respect and appreciate” them and to better understand the challenges and dangers in 21st century policing. Both groups, and all of us, need to have honest dialogue and try to understand our mutual goals, and our differences. Anger, fear and retaliation will not make things better. As Dr. King would often say, “An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.” We must see and hear what is being done and what is being said by many, in order to make progress, and live in peace. We have faced these challenging times before, and thru dialogue, technology and open hearts, we’ve made great progress in America, but there is still much more work to be done. Great Movements led by great people and groups, have moved American society and our sense of community forward. That is where we find ourselves again today. There is a Movement, and there are many great leaders prepared to rise to the occasion.

It is clear that the movement known as Black Lives Matter has made a societal impact, raised awareness and given voice to the frustrations of many African Americans and other Progressives seeking redress from decades of real and perceived injustices, abuses, disparities and unfairness in treatment, opportunities and engagement by “The Establishment,” law enforcement, the criminal justice system, reentry programs, employers, media organizations, economic development organizations, education systems, health care providers, governments, elected officials and many others. The protests and demonstrations, many peaceful, some not peaceful, have pushed Americans, sometimes reluctantly, to talk about, recognize and contemplate actions that could or should be taken to address the issues raised, and to also acknowledge that race and racial disparities are still very much alive and operating in many facets of American life throughout our country.

The question today is, “Where Do We Go From Here?” — and how do we turn awareness into action, protest into programs and reaction into reform. The time and opportunity for a much broader discussion of what the movement for BLM is, what is the BLM action agenda and how can the BLM action agenda be communicated broadly and clearly, is now. This Movement, primarily in response to the killings of unarmed Black men by White Police Officers in numerous cities across America, can also take on the challenge of addressing the flip side of the Black Lives Matter coin — the senseless deaths of young Black men at the hands, mostly guns, of other young Black men. All Black Lives must Matter at least equally — whether death is caused by a Police Officer or a fellow citizen.

I have spoken about this dual dilemma on numerous occasions during my 22-plus years as an elected official, but especially forcefully during my 8 years as Mayor of Philadelphia. During my time as Mayor, even with significant decreases in yearly homicides, there were still far too many. I also lost eight police officers killed in the line of duty, five by gunfire. I’ve witnessed and experienced both sides of these tragedies. I wrote a piece three years ago entitled “Stopping The Slaughter” in Time Magazine which highlights the daily death, destruction and slaughter on the streets of Philadelphia and across America. Today, we can read about the same unnoticed level of overwhelming massive violence in a New York Times story entitled, “Untold Damage: America’s Overlooked Gun Violence,” which explains how nearly every day on average in America there is a mass murder of four or more people who are killed or wounded somewhere in our great country. Collectively across the America, on average, nearly 30 people are killed daily. How can any of this daily carnage be acceptable to any of us?

53 years ago, in a letter written while in a Birmingham jail, having been arrested for protesting and standing up for the rights of people in a city in which he didn’t live, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote these famous words to explain why he was in Birmingham:

“But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. …Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.”

Now is the time for the collection of facts, understanding, negotiation and direct action. NOW. Now is the time to identify and engage with the various entities, organizations, media, thought leaders, governments and elected officials who can work in concert and collaboration with BLM to identify mutual goals, actions, rules, regulations, laws, policies that addresses the BLM action agenda. The next step should be to then report out a specific set of actionable mutual recommendations for implementation and communicate with the broader community at-large that responsible BLM leaders at the city, state and national levels are taking specific steps to have policies and laws changed to address legitimate grievances. We are in this together and progress and change can only work if we work collectively.

A series of BLM Conversations should take place across America in a town hall style setting on college/ university campuses and other prominent places in communities throughout the country, featuring local BLM leaders, academics, clergy, business leaders, law enforcement, former and current elected officials, philanthropy and community youth to engage in “real talk/ real dialogue,” moderated by most likely a media personality and potentially broadcast on cable or network television, or a streaming service.

The goal here is to not only have a conversation, but more importantly, explain this movement, reiterate its purpose, understand its primary goals and objectives, and with those in various positions of power then move to action steps that lead to real change, reform and measurable results that improve the life circumstances of African Americans and all Americans in communities across the country.

The documentation of the town hall discussions, suggestions, grievances, ideas, complaints and proposals for reform must be compiled into a report, a blueprint of action steps and reforms. This report, representing a comprehensive plan of action, should then be presented to a variety of elected and appointed officials who have the power to make changes to the various laws, rules, policies and procedures that the report seeks to address. Some of the first to receive this public report and call to action are certainly the President and Congress, the Attorney General of the United States, the National Governors Association, the United States Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties. Every local and state government, as well as the federal government, must be held accountable for implementation of some or most, if not all, of the reforms that are recommended in the report, and there should be at least an annual report produced by a newly created “National Criminal and Social Justice Reform Commission” documenting what actions the different levels of government have taken in relationship to the recommended action steps of reform.

We must take seriously the issues being raised, the lives that are being damaged, the structural injustices that still exists, and the fear and anger that this movement has clearly identified which is driving Americans in many ways farther apart from each other and damaging critical community relations that are necessary for a stronger and better America. America is experiencing trauma, despair and social disengagement in many communities, whether because of the affects of violence, a broken criminal justice system, deteriorating racial/social relationships and a fraying of the fragile fragments of relationships that determine “chaos or community”. When we value Black AND Blue Lives, then we affirmatively state that All Lives Matter in America. As Dr. King said often, “The time is always right to do what’s right.” That time is right now. And yes, we are ALL of our Brothers and Sisters Keepers in every city, in every community, in every neighborhood because we must all matter to each other. Let’s start talking.

Michael A. Nutter
David N. Dinkins Professor of Professional Practice Of Urban and Public Policy
Columbia University/SIPA
July 12, 2016

First published on Medium

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