Community groups from across the East Side came together Monday night in response to a recent spike in violence in the city.
“This is a meeting for those who have heard and been to enough meetings where you’re clear about what the problem is,” Samuel L. Radford III, co-chairman of the Buffalo Local Action Committee, said in a crowded Frank E. Merriweather Library auditorium. “What this meeting is about is the solution and it’s about a plan.”
But shortly after the meeting, shots rang out on East Amherst Street. Two men were shot, one of them died and the other is in serious condition. Radford, who is also the president of the Buffalo Schools District Parent Coordinating Council, asked the coalition of anti-violence organizations to envision the community they want to live in – one that is safe and clean, with good schools, policing and thriving businesses – not the one that has seen 14 shootings and seven killed since the end of last month, including the man shot Monday night.
At the meeting, attendees were asked to recommit to that vision, and help forge a path toward achieving it.
Those plans will be taken to Washington, D.C., for the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March on Oct. 10, when organizers from Buffalo will share the suggestions and add them to a national agenda, said Minister Dahveed Muhammad of Mosque 23 of the Nation of Islam.
At least 30 cities across the United States are seeing a recent spike in violence, and it would be worse locally if not for the efforts of the groups assembled Monday night, he said.
“It’s very difficult to measure a saved life, and how many lives were saved,” Muhammad said. “But it’s always easy to measure how many lives we lost. We wanted to let you know, don’t despair. Don’t grieve. You’ve got an army of men and women out there every day working to try to resolve black-on-black homicides and crime. But we still have to do more.”
Some of those men and women working on the front lines in the streets were featured on a panel of four speakers who detailed in five-minute increments some of the solutions they’ve found that seem to help stem the tide of violence.
George BaBa Eng, restorative justice developer at Buffalo’s Back to Basics Outreach Ministries, said his methodology focuses on relationships built on respect through peace circles and peace conferences.
“These are very systematic and pragmatic applications of a methodology that lets people talk to each other, begin to think in each other’s interests and see that our interests are not always opposite,” he said.
Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, D-Buffalo, pointed to her civic action group We Are Women Warriors, which meets every first and third Wednesday in the library, and the forums, seminars and programs it hosts.
“I don’t want to see lower homicides, I want to see zero homicides,” she said. “But in order to do that you’ve got to have opportunities. You’ve got to have jobs.”
Brenda McDuffie, president and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League, said her organization is working to create those opportunities by providing adoption and foster services, job training, high school courses, small-business loans and first-time homebuying, among others.
“We know how to work with families and get the results we need for them,” she said.
Radford added the Urban League’s resources and assets to the growing list that would help with a solution.
Finally, Shango of RBG Buffalo, said his group teaches how to control one’s thoughts and actions, with an emphasis on respecting African culture, elders and ancestors.
“Our mission is really to address the minds of people that society really doesn’t want to deal with,” he said.
When the time came to open up the floor to the audience of more than 150, members of the media were asked to leave so participants behind closed doors could make personal commitments that would be documented for implementation.
“We have people that say nobody’s doing anything, and this town hall meeting has proven the point that people are doing things,” Carlinda Wilson of SNUG (guns spelled backwards) said outside the auditorium. “And not only are people doing things, we’re finding out there’s organizations and individuals that are also being a part of the solution. They’ve basically empowered other people to join along.”