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Take A Seat At The Table Against Gun Violence
10/5/2016 4:02:18 PM

By Barney Blakeney

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – writing is hard work! Anybody can string sentences together. Stringing them together so they say something that makes sense is the hard part. So here I am, a few hours before deadline and I can’t think of a thing to write about. An editor once advised there’s a story in everything. It was some of the best advice I ever got as a reporter.

I’ve thought about a subject for this column the past 40 minutes and now that I’ve started to write, as usual, my fingers are making the decision for me. I attended a meeting last evening of the United Black Men of Charleston County. There were several other meetings being held at the same time – all very important. I had a board meeting scheduled with The Friends of the Low Line and the Charleston Senate delegation held a hearing on gun violence.

I chose to attend the United Black Men meeting. As the bodies from homicides pile up, the brothers thought we should assess our progress. About 20 or so men attended. Most of our participants were at the senate hearing. I never intended to go to the senate hearing, but I really hated missing the Friends of the Low Line meeting. That group is working strenuously to realize a linear park that will run down the center of the Charleston peninsula. Only two African Americans are on that board. I think it’s important that African Americans be at the table. Fortunately the board agrees.

I chose to attend the UBMCC meeting because of the rate of homicides occurring in our community. Our chairman, Charleston County Councilman Henry Darby brought the group together a few months ago in response to an April rash of homicides. Darby was upset at the number of murders that had taken place in the community. Two weeks ago another murder was committed next door to his home. Another of his neighbors was held hostage by the culprits as they hid in his home from police searching the area.

The threat of gun violence is so pervasive it could strike anyone any time, affluent politicians included. Former Charleston County School Board member Elizabeth Moffly this year lost her son to gun violence. He was the son of an affluent local political figure who resides in Mount Pleasant. The murder on Darby’s street was the third I can remember. A North Charleston City Councilman also lives on the street.

The brothers of the UBMCC are struggling to stem the tide of homicides. For several weeks each Monday some of the brothers walked the Dorchester Waylyn community talking to residents and young people. It’s one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the City of North Charleston where 27 people have been killed this year – 25 were black. I told a North Charleston official last month there would be 30 homicides in the city by October 30. Betcha I’m right.

A young brother attended last night’s UBMCC meeting. At 14 years old he was caught up in ‘the life’ and bought a life sentence. He did six years and got out early for good behavior. He’s since turned his life around. He wants to help other young men do the same. But the Waylyn is “done”, he said. Walking the Waylyn is a waste of. In the Waylyn, the blind are leading the blind. Babies are having babies and no one’s learning anything from anybody. I heard hopelessness coming from a young man not yet 30 years old.

I was talking to a brother at the meeting who expressed a similar hopelessness. The group ain’t moving fast enough or hard enough to stop the murders, he said. He thinks we need to go into communities like the Waylyn 70-strong, presenting a show of force that tells thugs and wannabe thugs we’re willing to take back our neighborhoods. Not with violence, but with the presence of a gang of black men bonded together – with compassion for them, but intolerant of their violent behavior.

One of the brothers gave a report about our progress in the Waylyn. We’re getting nowhere, residents aren’t responding, he said. A community meeting was conducted a few weeks ago to bring people to the table. It didn’t work.

Only about 30 people showed up. I recently talked with a sister who lives in the Waylyn. Her response to the men walking her neighborhood was ambivalence. She didn’t attend the community meeting either. All three of her sons currently are incarcerated.

The brothers of the UBMCC last night tried to figure how we engage people to start on a road to recovery from the violence that plagues our communities. Essentially, I guess that’s the same thing those attending the senate hearing on gun violence were trying to do. I doubt they had any more success than we did.

The young man at the UBMCC meeting made a statement I think transcends the overwhelming challenges. He said failure is not an option. I think that’s what we all need to realize.

A few years back as I watched crime and violence escalate in the black community and young black men die or go to jail, I told myself we must do something. Our community is losing too many young men to just write off. We can’t just say “The Waylyn is done!” because if the Waylyn is done, then we’re done. The Waylyn is our future!

I missed my Friends of the Low Line meeting, but I’ll be at the next one. You see, the Low Line, like the Waylyn, represents our future. I also missed the senate hearing. But I’ll be at its next meeting also. All are quality of life issues and some of us must be at the table. The Low Line represents an opportunity for economic participation at every level. Those at the table can make that happen. The senate hearing on gun violence represents an opportunity for political participation. Being a part of the discussion makes that happen. Both have the potential to impact how many more of our young men will die.

I’m peeved at the sister who with ambivalence dismissed the brothers walking the Waylyn. She represents those who refuse to take a seat at the table and scoffs at others who do. But like the young brother at the UMBCC meeting said, there are babies raising babies. I ain’t mad at her. But I beseech her, and others, to take a seat at the table. Attend your next neighborhood association meeting. That’s where residents work out problems. And by all means, vote in the November 8 general elections.

I know the choices are unpalatable. Just think of it as practice for a real general election.

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