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Black and Brown: Violence and Peacemaking among African-Americans and Latinos in Compton, California—the Hub City

Nate Williams
(Writing from DVI, Tracy State Prison, California)

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Our worst attributes are always awarded, paraded, and celebrated by those whose job it is to keep us in a state of distress.
“Harsh” you say?
Fear of non-whites is a big business in America. Television “entertainment reality” shows like “Cops” and virtually all news broadcasts amplify the manifestation of that fear and the acceptance of it’s so-called remedies like an increased police presence, more prison construction, and the passage of “tougher” laws that reduce the flexibility of the courts. Besides, do you think that black/brown life really matters to those in control? Do you think that they care if we kill each other off?

We must understand that our focus and priorities need to change. Nobody can be relied up to care about us but Us. This should be obvious to all of us by now. Things that many in our communities seem to imitate and emulate (“game,” “pimping” “the life”—all about exploitation of ourselves by ourselves--. Enough of this. Do you think that the bank, the phone company, or a prospective employer cares about your street game; your pimping? The game so many want to play in our communities may make you seem cute in the eyes of shallow folks but what you know is more important then how you look or act. Contrary to popular belief both inside and outside our neighborhoods, being slick and shady is a dead end. Only through education and hard work will we move beyond simply survival on the street to our success as communities and peoples.

Meanwhile the mass media (music, movies, television) are contributing factors to the self-destructive paths being walked by so many in our communities. But criticizing the media or even changing it are not the only solutions. Many of us have a pent-up rage that easily triggers aggression that often results from a combustible blend of cultural and racial baggage that we carry.

What we need to do now is to break out of the framework of self-destruction expected of us which is abetted by the centers of power. Angry black and brown men without focus are not a threat to anyone but ourselves and have become objects of ridicule both among those inside and those outside our communities. Again…who cares if we kill each other off?

We must care!
It can be argued that black/brown life is viewed by many as being worthless. So it should come as no surprise that many studies confirm that the punishment blacks/browns receive when the victims of violent crime are white is far more severe than if the victims of African American or Latino. Add to this the lack of economic opportunity, a deep sense of powerlessness, and alienation that many of us experience from our early youth, and the picture becomes all-too-clear that society is not set up for our benefit.

We have to make our own way.
And in order to get on that way we must first respect each other and ourselves. “Easier said that done” you say? Why? Everything is easier when we get along, when people in different communities can respect one another and work together, especially since it appears that there are those in this society who do not want us to do exactly that. The name of the real game now is to be focused. Stay focused not only on the present but on your future too. How many young folks today can’t envision themselves older than 25? How plan for any future at all?

The devaluation of black/brown life by systematic racism and the media encourages many of us to have disrespect for life and to act out our aggressions on others with the victims being women and other black/brown men. When this happens we all loose.

And what about gangs and drugs? The introduction of crack cocaine by the CIA into our communities during the 1980’s made black/brown youth gangs bigger and more dangerous that they had ever been before. The illicit profit of drug tracking provided and continues to provide, vicious incentives for those of us without direction, opportunity, or hope to murder ourselves. In fact much of the recent escalation of murder rates in many inner city areas in America can be directly traced to busted drug deals, competition over markets, and disputes over territory and bruised egos.

So what must we do? We must take responsibility, first and foremost for both ourselves as individuals and as communities and collectivities. We must understand that our black/brown brothers and sisters are not our enemies. Again--we have no one to look out for us but us. When you see wrong speak on it and intervene. Reach out to your friends and families if they are at risk and be receptive to other people’s points of view if you are feeling like violence is the only alternative. You just might save your life or the life of someone you know. Let’s bring back the peace, love, and soul in Compton that was once all we knew.

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