America has a problem with human-on-human violence, and the deaths of Charly Keunang, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Michael Brown – along with the recent shooting of two Ferguson, MO police officers – are only evidence of that. As a professional community gang interventionist, it’s my job to help stem violence and while it’s true that America has a problem, the solution is not impossible. The evidence is living and operating in some of Los Angeles’ most dangerous neighborhoods.
During my career, I’ve seen incredible atrocities. I’ve seen police officers pick up two alleged gang members and drop them off in rival territory, where they were severely beaten with bumper jacks and left paralyzed. I’ve also seen a petite, female rookie police officer shot and killed because the shooters wanted to see if she’d “collapse.” She did.
My experience with violence didn’t begin with my occupation. Throughout my youth, I belonged to some of the most militant groups of the era – including the revolutionary movement of the 60s and 70s that rebelled against the social and economic conditions stemming from the Jim Crow-era of racism. My movements were both violent and rebellious and while those choices’ were necessary for the time, it’s 2015 and I’m now working with a team of men who have a professional co-existence with many local police officers. We’ve found a certain and delicate common ground because of their willingness to consent to and respect our expertise in communities plagued by violence. We’re not their snitches. We don’t work for them nor or we on their payroll. We have a respectful and unspoken understanding that allows us to provide hands-on assistance in situations where officers don’t have the community respect needed to get the right answers.
But there’s one thing you should know. Most of us are former gang leaders who hail from some of the nation’s most feared and most violent gangs, including Bloods, Crips, and Florencia 13. In our former lives, we earned a “license” to make decisions and move through communities where most others couldn’t. That license changed us and thanks to psychological transformations predicated on our need for survival, we’ve changed for the better. Today, that respected, multi-level “License to Operate” gives us the opportunity to be community assets, instead of liabilities, and teach current gang members and aggressive community members that violence doesn’t have to be the only answer.
Because let’s be honest, we’re in the midst of national turmoil and the black community feels like the justice system has failed them. They’re not wrong because on average, there are 96 incidents per year of white police officers killing black suspects. More so, a recent study divulged that 1 in 4 officers surveyed said they’ve witnessed other officers harassing a citizen “most likely because of his/her race.” And given that young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than their white counterparts, we can all see why the black community feels beaten down – both figuratively and literally.
The issues within the black community are just one example of America’s human-on-human violence but the results that have come from my team’s efforts are proof that America can change.
Change will be a long and difficult process. It begins with altering perception and it must start with police officers. These men and women have been given the right to utilize deadly force based on situational perceptions and they can’t allow fear or misconceived notions to alter their clarity. They must start using their training to diffuse situations but more so, they need to understand the vast differences between themselves and the outside community. These citizens are defensive and truly concerned, not adversarial.
However, it goes both ways and the communities – all communities – must realize that entire police departments can’t be held responsible for the actions of rogue officers. While there are many unethical cops, there are also police officers who understand their role in protecting and serving the citizens they represent. We should seek them out and uphold them as the models of law enforcement we want to see nationwide.
One of my comrades once told me, “When my time comes, I want people to know I was man enough for change.” I believe that America’s civil unrest will get better. We’re all man enough and if I can successfully work and operate in a world where officers and former gang leaders can peacefully agree, it just proves that anything is possible.