The Candor

How Can Everyone Help Urban Black Communities Improve Public Safety?

Omair Ali

Perspectives Editor

For the last several months, citizens have been fighting against both elevated homicide (or violence) rates and police brutality, two viewpoints that address some of the circumstances afflicting urban black communities. While this multifaceted public outcry has accomplished little, it is important to note that both viewpoints raise attention on the criminal seduction of the youth by gangs and the zero-tolerance policies by law enforcement.

Mappingpoliceviolence.org is an internet activist organization that has argued that police departments have misused violence against the black population. The advocacy organization reports that there were 309 acts of homicide, indicating that there are troubling issues regarding law enforcement tactics. But while the use of excessive force by law enforcement is concerning, as some victims were not criminals, the stigma of police conduct should not be generalized to the whole entity of law enforcement. As well, the prevalence of homicides has established a void of security in urban black communities. The 2016 FBI crime report indicates that there were 2570 “black-on-black” homicides, most of which occurred in cities. Given these statistics, it is not insensitive to say that black-on-black homicides is just as concerning as police-on-black killings. However, this is not about deciding which group must shoulder the blame. This is to show that both black and police violence are significant problems.

Rather than pointing fingers at each other, it is more productive to look at initiatives that are addressing this public safety crisis on both ends. One such program is BUILD (Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development) Chicago, an advocacy group that provides social services to youth in high crime neighborhoods— and often, many children are at risk to become involved in gangs. Often, BUILD Chicago must also work with the Chicago Police Department to monitor these kids, which means that the police do not always discipline children involved in these gangs; instead, they allow BUILD Chicago to work with these children. By collaborating with the police, BUILD Chicago has been paving the way for improved relations, at least among at-risk children, their families and police officers.

Yes, it is hard to pacify the swelling outcry about police conduct and gang violence in these communities. But given the racial divide among attitudes towards law enforcement, is there hope for positive outcomes to arrive from continual disagreement?  For instance, is the behavior of  NFL players of recent weeks, which evolved from excessive police violence, going to solve this crisis? Or is it going to make no difference and only hurt the viewership of the NFL?

Some people believe in investing all their energy in cumbersome political campaigns. To others, letting go of grievances— whether it is frustration with increased civilian crime or police shootings— is difficult. But these people must realize that not supporting progressive initiatives will only permit the continued exacerbation of this public safety crisis. So maybe it would be wise to spend more time supporting nonpartisan groups like BUILD Chicago, as they are trying to improve the conditions in some urban black communities by reducing violence and improving police-community relations. At the end of the day, black lives matter and police lives matter too.

If you would like to follow-up with the writer with any comments about this article, you may reach him by email at Omair_Ali@ben.edu