Over the past few months, my columns have mostly been directed toward the MSR’s adult readers. After a few readers’ responses that I’ve received, I see I have caught the attention of a few eyes. With that accomplished, consider this month’s column a transition into future columns that will more directly address the young men in the streets.
We all know these young men are unlikely to pick up an issue of the MSR on their own. My hope is that you will start to place some of my columns in the hands of troubled young men who may benefit from the reading. Hopefully together we can accomplish change in the community.
I had the opportunity to befriend a young man named Dakota Galtney while he was in prison. A charismatic and energetic young man, he made many of the hardened men in prison laugh. Dakota invested his time well and studied while in prison. He also developed and wrote down goals for his future. He was determined to be successful.
After Dakota’s release from prison, he enrolled in college, got a job, and was married. Within a year of his release from prison, Dakota was murdered in the streets of East St. Paul. It was an old altercation prior to his incarceration that resurfaced to take his life.
Throughout my incarceration, I’ve watched many truculent men pass through prison and leave with a positive and productive attitude. Yet, whether they were from “1-9,” “Tre-Tre Crip” or the Taliban gangs, they all expressed the same concern: “Man, the ‘hood don’t care about my change. They gonna be gunnin’ for my head as soon as I get out of this joint.”
“Man, the ’hood don’t care about my change. They gonna be gunnin’ for my head as soon as I get out of this joint.”
These men have a genuine desire to do right. But because of the serious threat of retaliation for their past deeds, they think their options to deal with this precarious situation are limited to only one choice — arming themselves.
Dakota’s story and others like it cause many of these young men to justify keeping a gun “just in case.” They feel that although getting caught with a gun may send them to prison, getting caught without one will send them to the grave.
Rather than getting a gun for protection, there are two other less violent options for dealing with an unresolved beef: leaving the community that contains the threat, or resolving the beef by using key community members as mediators.
For many, leaving is difficult. Some men feel like they’re cowards for walking away from an altercation. But leaving for the opportunity of a better life is the choice a mature, confident adult makes, not a coward.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a famous African American journalist who wrote articles condemning the lynchings in the South during the late 1890s. Racist White mobs soon threatened her life. Rather than face a threat that could have ended her anti-lynching campaign, she chose to move to New York where she could safely continue her courageous mission. Would anyone dare call Wells-Barnett a coward? I don’t think so.
Some men make the choice to stay despite the risk because they have children or ailing parents to care for. But they can serve their loved ones better from a distance than they can from prison or a grave, which is the risk they take if they stay.
Other men find it difficult to leave because they don’t have the resources, support or connections to relocate to another city or state. Here, the community can be very helpful and must step in.
Through collaboration, key community members have the ability to create peace for young men who are trying to change their lives but have violent pasts. These key members include well-known community activists, leaders from the religious community, and most importantly, ex-felons and other men who have turned their lives around, yet still possess street credibility and influence.
An organization consisting of these individuals to mediate potentially deadly conflicts for men transitioning out of the street life would be invaluable to Minneapolis and St. Paul. Other cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles have established similar peace coalitions and experienced success in curtailing tragic events like the murder of Dakota Galtney.
Their programs began with one regular community member contacting religious leaders, community activists, and concerned, productive ex-felons and gang members to come together and address an issue that affects the entire community. You too can be that regular community member with a tremendous effect on the neighborhood.
The majority of men in prison will one day return to the community, and many of them have good intentions. Any assistance given to help them reintegrate into society is a benefit not only to them, but to the community as well.
Take action. Save a life. Save your community.
Jeffery Young welcomes reader responses to Jeffery Young #213390, 7600 525th St., Rush City, MN 55069.