The Appaling Silence of Good People

I want to share an excerpt of an email by Laurie Cumbo from MoCADA in Brooklyn. It refers to a shooting on November 8th in front of their museum, the bullet that entered their offices, and the metaphorical scars left behind (thankfully, no one was hurt). I’ve long admired what Laurie has been able to achieve as a community activist, using art as a vehicle to effect change. Equally important, this post is wake up call for the complacency that surrounds us.

With all the hope abound after the elections, we all still have much to work towards and must make sure “change” starts on the most basic of levels, in our own homes, with our neighbors, in our communities. And pass it on.

The community of Fort Greene has been undergoing rampant economic, social and political change over the last fifteen years. Many would argue that the change has been for the better or for the “better off”. While the community of Fort Greene is seen as a widely culturally diverse community, it unfortunately remains extremely economically segregated by class. This segregation of class has produced much of the tension in the community and by some accounts the shock that has much of the community stating, “How could shootings like that happen in Fort Greene, Brooklyn?”

Although not physically wounded by the bullet that entered my office, I am profoundly wounded mentally and spiritually by not only the shootings in Fort Greene but also by the recent increase in violence throughout the country.  I felt the need to do something. I did not know if that something was a press conference, town hall meeting, outdoor rally, community meeting and the list goes on. I also felt a strong responsibility to do something because this is the James E. Davis 80 Arts Building. With all that the late James E. Davis did to prevent violence as a police officer, community organizer and as a City Councilman, I feel that something needs to be done within the community to preserve the sentiments of his legacy.

I have always been very concerned about the trend in urban communities to always cry for more police officers when acts of violence happen within a neighborhood, however, communities rarely scream out for more opportunities, after school programs, jobs, athletic centers, libraries etc. My fear is that our temporary or band aid solution to crime in urban communities will exhaust our tax paying dollars on creating a police state versus creating an inclusive thriving community where opportunities are abundant and people recognize the importance of their own lives and that of those around them. That’s not to say that a well trained police force, which should include training in community based organizations is not needed to assist in the building of communities. However, they should not be the end all and be all of maintaining order in the community.

After the historic election on November 4th , 2008 that inspired a country to rally around the idea of CHANGE, we can’t ignore the need for change on a local level. Our community has to turn the “YES WE CAN” battle cry that we voted for in record numbers from rhetoric into reality. When I look at the state of this community and that of New York City, I am reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s belief that, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people”.

We as “good people” have allowed the “neighbor” to be taken out of the “hood”, which has created an atmosphere where our senior citizens and pregnant women can’t get a seat on the bus, young men and women walk around with their underwear fully exposed, the “gentrifyers” attempt to ignore their way into the community, young people utilize profanity at the top of their lungs, major construction and developments happen with no notice until after the fact, newsstands are bombarded with degrading images of women and single parent households have become the norm.  We the “good” people are guilty for going to town hall meeting after town hall meeting and remaining quiet while the moral fiber or our communities have been eroded.

The shootings in our communities are a culmination of our silence or more importantly our fear to address community issues as individuals. “YES WE CAN” means that you as an individual does his/her part to maintain the community. My fear is that the euphoria created by this presidential election will cause people to think that Obama will change the world while we sit back and watch. I write this to you because I feel that I was called to do so by the bullet in my office window but also because I feel that it is important to recognize our individual power to create, build and take back responsibility for what goes on in our community before it escalates into acts of violence. Let us not allow our fear to stand in the way of speaking the truth and what we know to be right. As drastic budget cuts are targeted specifically at education, the arts and the police force simultaneously, it is imperative that we utilize our individual talents to survive this challenging economic time.

As Alice Walker states, “We are the ones we have been waiting for”. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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