Street organizations work for peace


— Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

In the heat of an “apocalypse” in the streets of this city of over 600,000 people, a group rushed to the frontlines to try to save lives, protect some property and keep Black men, women and children away from heavily armed police officers.

The small core group on the streets early and in the midst of fires, smoke, looting, rioting and an urban insurrection weren’t those usually mentioned in mainstream media as heroes: The group included members of street organizations—the Bloods and the Crips and the Fruit of Islam, the men of the Nation of Islam.

Speaking at Muhammad Mosque No. 6 on May 3, Student Minister Carlos Muhammad described how the young Black men and the Muslims came together on a mission of mercy and peace. We understand the anger and the legitimate frustration of our people, but we, and the street organizations, knew it did not make sense to burn down where you live, said the Baltimore representative of the Nation of Islam and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.

As the Fruit of Islam moved to stand between police and angry throngs of people April 27, the streets organizations worked to try to bring an out of control situation to order, he said. Our young people are not thugs, they are a fearless generation fed up with oppression and ready to go free, he said. This generation doesn’t want scared leadership and won’t respond to it, said Student Minister Muhammad. These are our children and we love them, he added.

The young minister described how after the initial unrest calmed, it was the same street soldiers who cleared the way when the F.O.I. showed up with free pizza to help feed people at the intersection of Pennsylvania and North Avenue, a central point for gathering and where a drugstore was burned and looted.

These brothers asked us what we needed, cleared the way, organized the people, with women and children fed first, he said. The pizza giveaway was peaceful and orderly.

The good that the young Black men set out to do through a peace treaty among themselves and standing on the front lines was condemned and mischaracterized by the Baltimore Police Department. The department declared quickly that a peace pact was crafted to allow the groups to target officers. It cited “credible sources” but never named the sources. A chance encounter with a local TV reporter allowed for the youth, who had also been getting their message out via social media, to speak directly and counter the lie. The truce was never aimed at police, it was always about protecting our community, they said.

As their message went out, the police department retracted its claim but never named the credible source or issued a public apology.

“Really when the situation kicked off most people saw it was school kids from the very beginning,” said Gary Johnson, who helped restore order and reach out to angry youngsters.

A lot of guys in the community and street organizations had banded together and decided they would do something before anything happened, said the 28-year-old West Baltimore resident.

“We took up responsibility because we knew we had a voice to people who may not be able to get their voice heard,” he said. “It was apocalyptic like cars burning, We banded together and some of the brothers were linked up. Now we’re talking about Bloods and Crips linked up with their colors on—red, blue, red, blue, red, blue—also with brothers from the Nation of Islam. They were guarding stores on Pennsylvania Avenue, guarding stores on Fulton Avenue. That we were out there in numbers, getting groups of kids, groups of young men, to just stop what they were doing, calm down and maybe take a different light.”

Doing that pulled a lot of young men into the positive process and showed the children a better way, he said. No matter where you are from or where you grew up, you didn’t have to be delinquent or foul, he said. It helped the stage for this rally, he said, standing on a sidewalk May 2 at a downtown rally.

A close friend, who is a leader of a street organization, called him before the Monday when everything exploded. The idea was to have a peace treaty and to show White America “we are not animals, we are not stupid, we are not uncivilized. We are none of that and to give our people hope in these communities,” Mr. Johnson explained.

But, he added, with all the spotlight on Baltimore, people in suffering neighborhoods are not being heard. “Where we come from, right, we feel like we are not even in America,” said the lifelong Baltimore resident. “This isn’t USA that they promised us, no way possible.”

Everything that happened God put it in place, he said. “We do understand how God is working through us.”

When a picture of street organizations and the Muslims together went viral, those in power were afraid, he said. Because of the fear, the lie was told about gangs coming together to target police. “I can tell you that that was 100 percent completely false,” said Mr. Johnson.

At the downtown rally, street organization leaders took the microphones and echoed that sentiment saying they were going to protect the communities and not allow anyone to destroy their neighborhoods.

Niko Caldwell, of the Park Heights neighborhood in West Baltimore, said being in front of the stores was hard. “Out of nowhere the police just threw a flash grenade at us. We weren’t even rioting, we were blocking the stores. But that just shows the injustice that the White people do. Not even just White people but this is what the police department of Baltimore does,” the 25-year-old said. He is also a member of a street organization.

“We all had the same cause. In a nutshell, Bloods, Crips, we had the same cause—protect our neighborhoods. Protect our own, police our own neighborhoods, like, give to our neighborhoods don’t take away from it. That’s our ideology,” he said.

The young man hopes to see more programs and alternatives for youth when things settle. Youth need programs, jobs and family to avoid the traps of the streets, he said. There are serious problems of poverty and slums in Baltimore, Mr. Caldwell added.

“It’s a bad place as far as the conditions of living, but I can say this is a great place for unity,” he said.