First in a two-part series
Violence rates among young Black males ages 10 to 24 have at least doubled over any other group in America since the 1980s. This, according to a report by Cities United, a movement launched in 2011 by 80 U.S. mayors and other leaders to eliminate the violence related to Black men and youth.
Overall, the report entitled “Violence Trends, Patterns and Consequences for Black Males in America,” found that Black males are 17 times as likely to be homicide offenders and about eight times as likely to be victims as Black females. When comparing Black males to White males in the 18-24 age group, it is 7.8 times more likely for Black males to be homicide victims or 8.6 times more likely for them to commit homicide. The epidemic growth of Black violence occurred during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
On August 24, over 300 people, including the mayors of 43 cities, attended the Cities United’s “United for Change” conference at the City Center Marriott in downtown Minneapolis to press for answers to the violence. The stated goal is to help reduce homicides by 50 percent by the year 2025.
During a press conference at the event, former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said the idea for Cities United came from a conversation with Casey Family Programs President and CEO William Bell. They knew something had to be done regarding young Black men and boys, who are “literally dying in the street.”
The event included breakout sessions and site visits to Northside and Southside areas to present examples of how cities such as Minneapolis are dealing with violence.
During the panel discussion, “Candid Conversation with Mayors,” including Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, Isaiah Hudson, a father of three from South Minneapolis, complained about being seen as a person who must be feared. “I don’t want [my children] to go through what I have gone through,” he said.
Hudson and André Canty of Knoxville, along with YWCA Minneapolis President-CEO Luz Maria Frias, were the only non-elected officials on the panel moderated by Nutter.
Canty said Blacks who looked like him are the faces of violence in his community and elsewhere around the country. “I’m 32 — we’re doing as best as we can,” he said. Frias added that violence should be addressed from a public health perspective.
Nutter later told the MSR and other reporters that, “Every 14 or 15 days, hundreds of young people [are] killed in the United States of America.”
Unfortunately, at the start of the fourth annual convening, a bystander was shot in downtown Minneapolis just around the corner from the conference site. Mayor Hodges, who is a Cities United founding member and on the advisory board, was asked about it by reporters.
“We are not the only city that is experiencing violent crime,” Hodges responded.
“I could not be more proud of the work Mayor Hodges and the other mayors are doing in their city to stop the violence,” added Nutter in her defense. “The challenges the mayors are facing didn’t develop overnight and they won’t be solved overnight. We [can] not arrest our way out of our public safety and crime problem.”
“I don’t know what drives someone to shoot somebody else,” he continued. “What we are trying to do is stop it.” He went on to say the idea was unrealistic to think a mayor could stop someone who has a gun, “The best that we can do is utilize our resources.” He suggested talking about the access to weapons, “It’s really hard to shoot a person if you don’t have a gun.
“It’s not all about what’s going on in Minneapolis, but what’s happening in all of these cities across the United States of America,” said Nutter, pointing out that many cities of all sizes are seeing an uptick in crime. “[It] is not unique to Minneapolis,” he said.
“If we had 100 police officers on one street, we couldn’t stop someone from shooting someone,” added University Park, Illinois Mayor Vivian Covington. “There’s not a magic wand to cure it overnight. Being a mayor is a very difficult position because [people] come to us night and day.”
When the MSR asked if the conference could be seen as just another “come in, talk, have fun and go back home” gathering for the mayors and attendees, Nutter responded, “This is a national conference. We had to be somewhere.”
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer also took offense to the assertion and said, “It is imperative that we learn from each other. We are in a tough time in this country right now.”
“I’m honored to be a part of this,” said Covington, noting how Hodges, in particular, told her things she didn’t know existed.
“This organization has given many of us the strength, knowledge [and] impetus to really address the problem,” said Knoxville, Tennessee Mayor Madeline Rogero, whose city will host the Cities United conference next year.
Rogero told the MSR she and other mayors are trying to share what they are doing. “We will be meeting year after year, because this doesn’t get done overnight.”
Rogero visited the South Minneapolis-based Urban Ventures and Cristo Ray High School on Fourth Avenue South near Lake Street, and complimented the facility: “What blew me away was the high school, a beautiful school full of windows, not a guarded fort in the neighborhood. It’s clean when you walk into that building. It says something about the value you place on the kids with that building. Our kids deserve the very best.”
Young people also attended last week’s conference. Alex Peay, a 30-year-old Black male from Philadelphia was among those who visited Little Earth, one of two Minneapolis communities — West Broadway corridor being the other — that have high violence rates. Both communities received funds from a Collaborative Public Safety Strategies program started last year.
According to press materials from the mayor’s office, homicide rates in Minneapolis-St. Paul also disproportionately impact young Native American men and boys. “To actually see and hear from Native Americans, especially urban Native Americans, you find out there is so much similarity with what Black Americans and Latino Americans [and Native Americans are] going through,” said Peay.
Shawn Dove of Campaign for Black Male Achievement said young people must be heard in discussions, “[They] … have the answers and the solutions” and must also be included in the discussions. He added that mayors should not be the only ones expected to solve the violence issue.
“Young people are the lifeblood of our cities,” Hodges told the gathering. “We are all in this together. Minneapolis has a comprehensive approach to deal with violence.”
Next: We will look at the two initiatives Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges launched with Cities United’s assistance.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com