But why the low attendance by local Blacks?
The 2017 “Northstar Public Health Conference on Gun Violence,” was held on September 13 and 14 at the Courtyard Marriott in Minneapolis. The event explored the causes and characteristics of gun violence and a presentation on emerging research on best practices related to violence and mental illness.
The conference was produced by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, the Minnesota Public Health Association, Protect Minnesota and the “Nobel Peace Prize Forum,” which was held that same week at Augsburg University.
Conference goers were offered a general track open to all participants, and an alternative track for participants in higher-level dialogues with the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, where I was privileged to participate.
Gun violence claims over 33,000 American lives each year — as many as lost to the opioid epidemic. Three quarters of gun deaths in Minnesota and similar states are suicides. Elderly White males comprise 75% of the suicides. The violence costs Minnesota over $2 billion a year.
The “Inspiring Peacemaking” dialogue on gun violence reduction reached across the partisan American “Red-Blue” divide, as other dialogues were about resolving problems peacefully in North Africa and the Middle East. “Dialogue in Divided Societies” addressed issues of job creation, peace education, and “peace by design,” which was managing conflict through “decentralizing.” Why, then, were there so many out of state thought leaders and so few locals from our neighborhoods?
A major topic was the gang use of guns in our Black neighborhoods. We urged the Forum to involve more local African Americans experienced in solutions as well as those from around the country. Only a few of the participants were from Black neighborhoods in Minneapolis. Most were Caucasian, with 15 Black Americans.
When will local community programs, books, and solution papers be included? Research studies show that well-meaning gatherings that fail to involve the targeted audience discourages participation and causes belief that these are just more plantation maintenance programs from the “massa.”
The Rev. Michael McBride, from San Francisco, gave a stern and yet enlightening presentation. He is committed to addressing gun violence and is anti-mass incarceration of young people of color. He struggles with how to take direct action, as did Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1963, Letter From A Birmingham Jail, regarding peaceful vs. non-peaceful “methods of direct action.”
Again, why the absence of leading local African American individuals and organizations who can speak on the gun violence that threatens the well-being and future of all communities?
Only one Black clergyman was invited, as was the head of the Minneapolis NAACP.
And although a significant number of Minnesota legislators participated in panel discussions and workshops, it was not the same for any of Minnesota’s Black legislators.
There was a significant fee to attend the conference. Considering the many dollars pouring into the African American community, why weren’t funds set aside by organizations for local participants?
The Minneapolis Police Department was well represented. John Harrington, chief of the Metro Transit Police and former state Senator, was present and fully engaged.
As we heard in-depth analyses and discussions on gun violence in communities of color and potential solutions, we wondered why, in the midst of a very competitive mayoral race, that the Office of the Mayor and the Minneapolis and Minnesota State Health Departments are not making communities of color more aware of the crises.
Sadly, as I write, another young African American was shot and wounded, along the 3600 block of Penn Ave North, what we call “the war zone.” Working in foreign lands is commendable, but why are we avoiding our inner cities? Continuing to do so will not achieve the desired local peace.