By Brenda Flanagan
“We got young men killing each other and don’t know the last name of the person they killed,” said Ray Lewis.
Football star Lewis delivered a fiery sermon against urban violence, kicking off a special summit called by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to address black-on-black crime in his city and across the nation. Newark’s suffered more than 60 murders so far this year. Baraka invited Lewis and gridiron icon and long-time social activist Jim Brown to tackle the problem.
“The lack of opportunity in this country for young black men particularly, it is worse, the worst aspect of our society. Lack of opportunity, lack of education, lack of jobs. The numbers say, black on black, but it’s really people that are hurting other people,” said Brown.
“Clearly the fight ain’t about black on black lives matter. The fight is about lives matter,” Lewis said.
“Anytime where you get hundreds of young black and brown boys dying a year in these inner cities, that means there’s a crisis. And if we don’t address it as a crisis, then we’ll always be chasing numbers,” Baraka said.
Baraka’s launched Occupy the City rallies and is pushing to hire several hundred more cops to bolster a police force that’s been increasingly under siege. This summit mobilized dozens of experts in law enforcement, urban trauma, and social justice to treat public safety like a healthcare crisis, Baraka says.
“Growing up in these communities without resources and without support for families kinda deteriorates a community into mayhem we see every single day. What we’re doing today is beginning to shine some light on the other opportunities to get a hold on this violence that’s going on in our communities. And we have to think about it in a holistic sense,” he said.
This coalition of activists will debut a new public safety campaign in 15 cities and use bottom-up strategies to focus on community healing and intervention. They’ll provide urban trauma recovery centers, invest strategically in local programs and foster a more positive relationship between residents and law enforcement. Different cities, different perspectives.
“The violence that’s perpetrated in our communities is really a result of the existing state and so we have to transform the state. We have to engage and we have to transform the system in a fundamental way and that’s kind of the work that we’re doing as Black Lives Matter,” said Black Lives Matter LA Co-founder Melina Abdullah.
The effort’s also got a marketing strategy, to get the attention of young men.
“We’re gonna all of us get up off our butts and try to use the resources of those rich NFL players and their influence,” said Brown.
The campaign hopes sports celebrities like Brown and Lewis will lend their star power, time and support to this effort to help heal communities wracked by violence.