How a city known for high crime and racial tensions kept its protests non-violent
Protests against systemic racism and police brutality in America continue to call for justice after the police murder of George Floyd on May 25. Floyd’s death catalyzed an uprising of voices that are pushing forward the national narratives around policing and public safety. There is a widespread, growing call to defund and dismantle America’s long-militarized police departments, restructure their use of force policies and redistribute their bloated budgets into public services like housing for homeless people, social services, employment services and community-led safety programs.
In Newark, New Jersey, a city long known for its high crime rates, where you can still find vacant, ashen lots from buildings burned down during the race riots in the ’60s, the recent protests have been strikingly peaceful. While across the country the stories of protests include civilians being killed or seriously injured; police using excessive force and spraying mace, tasing and firing rubber bullets at close range against peaceful protesters; and broken glass, looting and fires on the part of either protesters or counter-protesting provocateurs. Meanwhile in Newark, the only damage of note has been a few slashed cop car tires. This is because in Newark, many of the police reform and community-based safety efforts protesters are calling for are already in play.
For more than 30 years, activist and entrepreneur Aqeela Sherrills has been organizing and pushing the envelope on what safety, community empowerment and community self-determination can look like in America. In 1992, Sherrills was significantly involved with bringing the Bloods and the Crips together to sign a historic peace treaty in Watts, Los Angeles. At 19 years old, he co-founded the Amer-I-Can program with football hall-of-famer Jim Brown. Fifteen years ago, Sherrills’ own son was murdered by another black boy during his first year at Humboldt State University. Rather than focus on punishment for the boy who killed his son, and the perpetrators of violent crimes, Sherrills has been outspoken about the need to address the root causes behind killings by black youth, and the need for better supportive counseling and rehabilitation services.
Today, Sherrills is a senior adviser to the Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ), which works with several states to replace over-incarceration with crime prevention, community health, rehabilitation and crime survivor support programs. He is also co-founder of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ), which is a project of ASJ and a national nonprofit network of crime survivors, working to replace criminal justice and prison system waste with commonsense, community-based safety initiatives.
In Newark, Sherrills worked with the city and Mayor Ras Baraka to establish a Newark Community Street Team (NCST) as well as a three-pronged approach to restructure the way safety and law enforcement operates in the city. Sherrills spoke with April M. Short of the Independent Media Institute about his recent work in Newark, and his decades of reshaping the way systems respond to crime and restructure those systems to reflect true public safety in ways that are anti-racist, and community-led.
The following is a transcript of the interview. It has been edited for length and clarity.
April M. Short: For many years you’ve been actively organizing and working to promote healing in marginalized communities and community ownership of public safety. The current protests have really elevated the conversation, shedding a spotlight on longstanding police brutality and conversations that are building around defunding and abolishing policing systems. How is this current moment amplifying that longstanding call for change?
Aqeela Sherrills: For far too long in this country, if you say “public safety,” people say “police” because they believe that public safety is a domain that’s owned by law enforcement, right? When you really look at it, law enforcement is only one aspect of the whole public safety process. The reality is that you can’t have public safety without the public. And safety is not the absence of violence or crime. Safety is the presence of well-being and the infrastructure to support victims and survivors in a respectful way.
Somehow, safety has become this arbitrary thing that people believe is the same thing for everyone. But in this country, safety is a different thing in black communities as opposed to white communities. We live in a country where for 350 years, and then another 50 years of Jim Crow, black folks were enslaved. And we have a police force that was actually created and designed to apprehend enslaved people who had escaped from the plantations and from bondage. There’s been very little done historically in terms of how we have redefined policing.
I think that the murder, or really the outright execution, of George Floyd is an inflection point in this country, in terms of policing. Never again will we go back to the way in which systems are currently organized and how services are actually delivered, especially in communities of color.
I first started this work when I was just a teen. I lost many friends and family members to what many social justice activists call the longest-running war in the history of this country, which has been urban street gang wars.
The people in this community suffer from traumatic stress disorder, hypervigilance, and vicarious trauma, but because we live in a system that is perpetuating structural violence and systemic racism and implicit bias, the cries of these young black and brown youth essentially fell on deaf ears. Instead of investing in healing services to support people, the trauma was allowed to fester and to ripple. And what became of it was the false narrative called “black-on-black crime” and “black-on-black violence.” As if we, the victims, created this thing ourselves, which is absolutely untrue. We were victims of this trauma and this violence that has been perpetrated on us.
Even utilizing language like “black people were slaves” is off-key, because we were enslaved. [The language should put] the onus on those individuals who perpetrated this violent inhumane act against us, and then forced white folks to be bystanders to the dehumanizing experience of it.
The label in itself, like “gang,” [matters—who started using it, and why?] I think that there’s a correlation between what’s happening in terms of excessive force and police brutality, and what happened in those neighborhoods in terms of my own upbringing. And so, my whole adult life, I’ve been committed to shifting narratives around victimization and redefining public safety with the idea that we have to put the public back into public safety.
Organizing the peace treaty in 1992 between the Crips and Bloods was essentially about shifting people’s perception of folks in the neighborhood—that we could actually bring the solutions to our own problems, that impacted people knew something about trauma and about violence, and that we could actually work to shift these dynamics. And we did. In the first two years of the peace treaty, homicides dropped 44 percent. It launched a national movement across the country that decreased violent crime and murder.
But at the same time, there was all this legislation [with the assumption that the way to address the problem of] violence [was] to criminalize folks [that instead resulted in] bloated corrections systems… [America] became tough on drugs and tough on crime instead of smart on it.
Today, we’re at an inflection point. We have a real opportunity that’s ahead of us. There’s a national campaign to defund police. Now, when you hear that, some people take it literally and say, “We need to dismantle the police department altogether and get rid of it.” But no, I think this is about a graduated strategy to reduce the amount of resources, of our tax dollars that we’ve invested in a system of policing as a public safety strategy. I’m not an advocate of getting rid of police. I’m an advocate of moving 10 to 20 percent of the law enforcement budget into complementary public safety strategies.
Short: What the Newark Community Street Team has already accomplished is a rare example we already have of what happens when we take steps toward the things that people are now calling for—defunding or dismantling police or, as you’ve said, restructuring policing. How does NCST work?
Sherrills: In 2014, Mayor Ras Baraka launched the Newark Community Street Team as a partner in his coordinated strategy around public safety and the city of Newark.
Many people know Newark as being in the top 10 of the most violent city lists for the past 50 years. What they don’t know is that from 1967 forward—and that was when the rebellion happened—there had been very little investment in infrastructure.
The mayor understood violence as a public health issue. When we devised our strategy, we created a three-pronged approach.
[What’s different about] community-based public safety is [that it’s] not just intervention, or what most people call interrupters.
Intervention is just the first prong. We have a High-Risk Intervention team that intervenes in individual and group conflicts, both present ones as well as historic ones. We have a direct relationship to our hospitals. We launched the city’s first hospital-based violence intervention program, where we have outreach workers who are embedded in the hospital so that when individuals are harmed in the community and they go into the hospital to be serviced, we develop a safety plan. You can’t just patch people up and provide them psychosocial services, and then send them back into the community. You have to set up a safety plan so that when [someone] is returning home, that conflict has been intervened with and mediated, so that they don’t come back [home] and get shot again, and go right back [to the hospital].
[Another part of our High-Risk Intervention effort is] we also receive intelligence from law enforcement. We don’t share our intelligence with law enforcement because you lose your credibility, and you can literally lose your life out here, in terms of that type of communication. … Law enforcement, in many cases, wants to stop the retaliation from happening, as we do, so they’ll share intelligence with us. Most of this intelligence we already have because the community will have more intelligence than the police will ever have. And so, we’re able to work with them on things like that.
Our second prong is our Safe Passage program. In our study with the Health Department, we discovered that violence is happening in and around schools more often than anywhere. Things happen on a school campus on a Friday, and spill into the community on the weekend. On the weekend, conflicts happen in the community, and spill onto the campus on Monday morning. And so, we launched an evidence-based program called Safe Passage.
Every morning between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., and 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m., we make sure our kids go to school safely and they come home safely. Our staff are former gang members, ex-convicts, people who are credible messengers in this neighborhood. Ninety-eight percent of our staff are residents of the communities in which they serve. When people see them on the block, it helps to shift the image of these individuals from being predators in their neighborhood, to being the solution-bringers and the problem-solvers. So they’re able to deter conflict and violence from happening.
Our third prong, which I would say is our theory of change, is that we put victims and survivors at the center of the strategy. In our community, the term victim has a negative connotation. People don’t like to identify as victims. In the work that I did with the Alliance for Safety and Justice, we really shifted that narrative. So we call ourselves survivors, because it means that someone has had an experience that conceivably they don’t want to happen to someone else, and they’re engaged in their respective healing journey.
We’ve been able to access Victims of Crime Act dollars from the state. We have a full-time victims advocate who helps people complete their Victims of Crime application. We connect them with pro-bono legal services from our partners at Rutgers University. We provide them mentoring through a case management model. Nine of our outreach workers also do mentoring through a case-management model.
And all three of these systems work together. And in addition to that, we also run probably one of the most successful community policy forums. It’s called the Public Safety Round Table.
Twice a month, residents organize this Public Safety Round Table. We invite elected officials, law enforcement, community-based organizations, and faith-based groups to hold them accountable for the services that they’re supposed to be providing in our neighborhoods, because believe it or not, a lot of people get monies to do service provision in poor communities, and those services never happen. So, we have a CompStat update from our police department about where violence is happening in communities. We have NCST that gives a report about the conflicts that they’re working to mediate. And we have all of our partners to talk about the programs and services that they offer so that we can wrap those around the folks in the neighborhood.
So these four entities—our High-Risk Intervention team and our outreach workers; our Safe Passage program; our victim services; and our policy work—all work together and have been powerful in terms of our ability to reduce violence and crime in the neighborhood.
Short: You talked to the New York Times recently about the instrumental part NCST played on the ground to quell violence and ensure the safety of both the community and those protesting following the murder of George Floyd by police. How did you do this?
Sherrills: Early on in the COVID pandemic, the mayor deemed us essential workers and deployed us in the community. And so, this work continues in terms of the protests.
The mayor led the protest in the city, with Larry Hamm of POP [People’s Organization for Progress]. They know how to organize a protest and a rally and a march. They’ve got the science and the technology behind it. But we also had other, smaller student organizations and kind of radical organizations who also were there, outraged as we all were witnessing the public execution of George Floyd. But one of the things that we were also adamant about is that Newark is just recovering from the 1967 rebellion. There are still houses and buildings in the community that are burnt out from that, believe it or not, after 50 years.
So the mayor and our public safety director Anthony Ambrose decided that they would pull all of the cops back and just put them on the perimeter. No cops would be wearing riot gear and all that type of stuff.
And this is because we’ve been working together for six years; this didn’t happen overnight. These are hard-won successes and conversations that allow us to be able to work together in this type of way.
We deployed the Street Team, the West Ward Victims Outreach, the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, the mayor’s Brick City Peace Collective. These are all residents of the city, and we weaved ourselves through every single portion of the march. And I was out there myself. And every time we saw somebody trying to harm a car, break a window, turn over and light a trash can or something, we were right here to stop them, and say, “Hey, listen, we want a peaceful protest.”
We want our voices to be heard. We want real change to happen. But tearing up our city, destroying property, all that is going to do is redirect our resources back into the police department. It’s going to redirect resources that could be used for summer youth programs and libraries and other types of social services and healing services that are needed. And this is the mindset of the folks in the neighborhood.
After we started discovering that there are white supremacist groups and agent provocateurs and opportunists looking for an opportunity for somebody to break a window for them to loot a store, we made sure that we showed up in force to tell them that this is not going to happen in our city.
Short: You’ve shown a concrete example of community doing a more peaceful job of what many people think the police are here to do, or what a lot of people are concerned about losing police because of.
Sherrills: We’re fortunate in this city in that many of the officers who work for the police department grew up here and are residents in this city. They’re our uncles and aunts and fathers and mothers, and we want to make sure that they get the proper healing services, counseling and therapeutic modalities, so that they can be well public servants. In terms of reform, if an officer is involved in a shooting, the public needs to know that the officer is getting ongoing counseling and therapy [afterward, so that when they return to engaging with] the public, they’re doing it in a way that is humane, that takes into account their own trauma.
We want our cops to get services. We want this to be a win-win for everyone. In terms of defunding the police, this thing needs to be done gradually. Our PD in Newark has a $228 million police budget. We can reduce that by 10, 15 percent and still be able to police the city, but we have to invest that money strategically in organizations like the Newark Community Street Team, into the Health Department, so that we can make violence as a public health issue not just a tagline, but provide real intervention prevention and treatment. And not just limit it to eurocentric models of therapy like talk therapy and group therapy. We need to expand into hydrotherapy and massage therapy and somatics and meditation and yoga. We need to have these things readily accessible in the community, everywhere. Because right now, there is so little infrastructure in the community to be able to support someone in their respective healing process.
Short: I’ve seen resources coming from the Newark Community Street Team, and some of the other groups that you’ve worked with as well, offering education on alternatives to calling the cops. Could you speak a little about what those alternatives look like, and what they are right now?
Sherrills: So, NCST designed an 800 number, and you can also reach us through social media. We like to say that if you’re experiencing a domestic issue or conflict with your neighbor or loitering and stuff that’s happening, you don’t always have to call the police. You can call us directly. And we will deploy a community person who is trained in conflict resolution and mediation, who understands trauma-informed practices, to be able to respond to your situation and help you to mediate that situation to a peaceful outcome.
One of the things that we saw with our partners at Rutgers (the Newark Public Safety Collaborative there compiles a lot of data for us) is that in 2016, 62 percent of the homicides that happened in the city were personal issues that actually rippled into violent crimes [as detailed on page 14 of the Safer Newark Council 2017 Report of Public Safety in Newark]. So our thinking is that we have to use a relationship-based approach to be able to address and resolve some of these conflicts. And we have to then wrap it with all of the support services.
The victim services piece is a huge portion of it because 90 percent of folks in our neighborhood, up until we launched our program, were being denied victims comp and victims services because of this thing called contributing behavior. We were instrumental, through our Public Safety Round Table, working with our public safety director, in having them do an administrative change. When someone is harmed, a police report is filed. And that police report goes to the prosecutor’s office, who qualifies you as a victim. But what happens is that if they put, “victim suspect” on that police report, you automatically get disqualified from receiving victim services.
So few people even know that victim services exist. So we also got our prosecutor’s office and the attorney general to put up signs everywhere, all over the community, on how people can access it. And then we partnered with Richard Pompelio and the Victim’s Law Center to provide pro bono legal services for our clients. In some cases, when they were denied those cases, we would sic Rich on them to sue them. We would sue the state.
One of our big gaps in our program that still exists when people are harmed and they call us is emergency relocation—housing. A lot of folks around here don’t want to house people who have been involved with some type of shooting or some type of domestic issue, because they don’t want to bring that issue to their particular property. This also becomes a huge barrier that prevents people from healing. Place is really important in terms of safety. And a lot of people don’t want to move from where they grew up and where their loved ones are, at the risk of being harmed and potentially even losing their lives.
[In addition to conflict resolution, victim services, and other services usually left to the police in the rest of the country, NCST serves] multiple functions. We’ve utilized our 800 number during the pandemic to provide food delivery to vulnerable seniors who couldn’t leave the house and were by themselves. They would text us, and we would take the food to the house, knock on the front door, and leave the bag for them. We provided PPE and developed cards [with general health information about diet, smoking and the immune system].
It’s a holistic approach. When we talk about community intervention, some people think interruption [like the police do] is the only aspect of the work that happens. And I’m like, no. We intervene, and then we deal with the retaliation and rumor control, we connect those folks to victim services, and we then connect them to a multitude of other services to support them in their healing.
Short: You mentioned this earlier, and it’s worth reiterating: With NCST and all of these resources that it’s providing, violent crime has gone way down in the city of Newark.
Sherrills: Yes. Again, we launched the program in 2014. In 2015, I think that we still had a little over a hundred murders happen in the city, but 2016, we had double-digit reductions in homicides, and in overall violence in the city as well. We then followed that up in 2017 with another reduction, and again in 2018. And then in 2019, we had a 30-year low in terms of homicides and overall violence in the city [and reported a 50-year low in crime overall].
And law enforcement will tell you, one of the most difficult needles to move in terms of violence and violent crime in the city is aggravated assault. We saw a dip in our aggravated assaults as well.
This is a shared safety strategy. Shared safety is one of the conceptual frameworks that was developed by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, in which a group of stakeholders came together and looked at multiple systems that you have to put in place, working through this public health frame, to be able to reduce violent crime.
In Newark, under the leadership of Mayor Baraka, and the great leadership and public safety department and NCST and all of our community partners, we have worked together cohesively to drive down crime.
Our work is targeted in the South Ward. Our South Ward stats were just off the chart for 2018 and 2019. We had a 48 percent reduction in homicides to the South Ward.
We’re so blessed and fortunate. I’m sure that a lot of this work is supported by the prayers of our seniors for the community, because that’s important as well. Our folks have owned this work, because they live in these neighborhoods, this is their community, and they have the same objective as law enforcement: to make this neighborhood safe.
But I think that something has happened in this country in terms of policing. It’s become this behemoth that sucks up all of the city’s public safety dollars when policing is only one aspect of it, and we need to change that.
Short: More and more cities and community groups are now looking for alternative ways of looking at safety in communities. In Minneapolis, the City Council just came to the decision to pretty much dismantle their police department in a big way. As these big changes are starting to happen across the country, I think people will be looking for examples. And I think that the city of Newark provides a really strong example. What advice would you give to other communities that are looking to start programs like this?
Sherrills: My advice would be to come to Newark and to see what we’ve done, in terms of the strategy. Come meet with our mayor, because the politics here are extremely important. Come meet with our police director, our public safety director, because it’s extremely important to know how public safety functions in that context. Come meet with us and see, and meet our High-Risk Interventionists. Come to our Public Safety Round Table and see how we hold people in organizations and law enforcement accountable. Come in and sit down and talk with our lead victims advocate and learn about the work they do. Come and meet our partners at University Hospital and see how we actually run our hospital violence intervention program.
Meet Dr. Aquil Basheer (I would be remiss to not mention his name). He runs an outfit called the Professional Community Intervention Training Institute—critical in terms of this work. PCITI has provided the ground-level training for all of our community-based intervention since we started this program, and it’s made a huge difference. It’s allowed us to professionalize community-based intervention.
We have a meeting with the police shooting team every single year. We do trainings with all of our police precincts every quarter because we need all the patrol cops to understand what we do in the field. Whether they like us or not, we make sure that they understand what our work is. PCITI has been just key in terms of understanding how to do this. You have to do the maintenance. You have to do the follow-up work. You have to connect the families to healing services because trauma debilitates, and it makes you forget everything. We have to connect people to healing services and support services so that we’re able to come back to the table.
People think that peace is this easy thing… but peace is extremely difficult work, because it’s about renegotiating the terms that brought you to the table in the first place. It’s about seeing humility and vulnerabilities as strengths as opposed to weaknesses. It’s about a shift in perception. It’s about seeing the glass as half full as opposed to empty. And this takes a tremendous amount of strength of character and work. And I tell you, the people that we work with in these communities are phenomenal. They’re autodidactic geniuses. And the thing is we just haven’t invested in people, and I see people as infrastructure.
So, I would tell folks, don’t attempt to do this yourself. You have to hook up with the NCST, PCITI, the HELPER Foundation in Los Angeles, you have to hook up with Erica Ford, with LIFE Camp in New York in Queens. You have to hook up with these type of individuals who understand systems dynamics and systems change, but also understand human development and trauma, how trauma impacts people, and how to utilize relationships in order to shift.
Short: Going back to something you mentioned earlier: people as infrastructure. You’ve talked a lot about the economics of race in the past, and done work around that. Michelle Alexander recently wrote a New York Times op-ed, about economic justice. Could you speak a little bit to the relevance of economics, and where we’re investing as far as community efforts and safety goals?
Sherrills: Look at the city of Newark or even LA as an example. LA spends close to 60 percent of the general fund on police—about $1.8 billion. In Newark, it’s $228 million on policing. The reality is that we don’t need that many police. We don’t need that much infrastructure in terms of law enforcement. So much in these dollars are being sucked up, and it doesn’t allow us to invest in human infrastructure and communities.
Now here’s the thing: people’s relationship with money is broken. We don’t understand money as a medium of exchange. We’ve assigned so much of our personal belief in power to this piece of paper that we call money that has become more important than the human being who assigns it value. We have to transform the way in which we relate to money.
To me, relationship is the new capital. Our connection to each other and our ability to resolve our conflicts peacefully amongst each other has more value than any piece of paper that you could ever provide.
I’m of the belief that this work can’t just be supported by governmental dollars, even though I believe that government ain’t got no money. I’m like, government is the custodians of the dollars that we give them, of our tax dollars. And I believe this adamantly. And the mechanisms and systems that have been put in place—they took civics education out of school for a reason. So that people don’t understand how government functions, people don’t know the role of the mayor, and the congressman, and the senator. They don’t understand what the function of the attorney general and the governor is in terms of how we move dollars.
I’ve always been a boots-on-the ground person. I was a part of one of the biggest, most progressive criminal justice reform legislations in the history of the country, Prop 47 in California, that took six low-level felonies and turned them into misdemeanors, releasing some 5,500 people from jail who shouldn’t have been there in the first place. We were addressing a mental health and substance abuse issue with a criminal justice solution. And we didn’t need to have those people in jail; we needed to have them in recovery services and therapy services. And some 300,000 people have had their records expunged as a result of that. Because in the State of California, if you have a felony, there are 4,800 restrictions that prevent you from accessing housing, student loans, AFDC—all different types of things because of a mistake that you probably made when you were in your youth.
We have to get away from being tough on crime and become smart on justice. So, how do you then move dollars from states into communities? This was a lesson in it: We saved the state $100 million in the first year of Prop 47. We put money into mental health services, we put money into victim services, we put money into K-12 education around violence prevention and intervention. Those monies from the policy decision went into grants programs, and then organizations had to learn the infrastructure and put the systems into place to be able to apply for these dollars, and then be able to manage these dollars properly to be able to implement programs in their respective communities. So, it’s about moving dollars into communities who have been exempt from participation in the mainstream because they didn’t understand how civil society functions and works.
And the other part is around people’s relationship to money. Black folks were a commodity in this country. Today, there’s nothing in the world that doesn’t have the black American imprint—we know how to assign value and make everything the shit, excuse my language. But what we need to do is take a page out of the Jewish community’s book, because the Jews are like, “we’re the chosen people,” and they see themselves as sacred. We need to take a page out of that book and we need to learn how to practice that in the black community, and see ourselves as sacred in a system that perpetuates structural violence against us, that perpetuates systemic racism and implicit bias.
I mean, it is the hardest thing in the world to wake up and be a black man every day. There was a study that was done by [the Center for Victim Research, which is funded by a grant from the Office for Victims of Crime at] the Department of Justice that essentially said that black men are the least helped and the most harmed. We are invisible in this culture. We are being hunted. We were the victims in this system of enslavement that is perpetuated through structural violence.
To me, all of this is a part of a spiritual continuum. And I’ll close with this: W.E.B. Du Bois wrote a book in the early 1900s called The Souls of Black Folk. And he said that the collective suffering that we’ve experienced as a result of slavery is our birthright, that it gives us a double vision, a “second sight.” It gives us this almost savant-like ability to see beyond where most see. We call it intuition. But we’re taught to doubt our intuition every single day—and what we’ve done is, in the denial of it, we’ve decreased the intuitive voice so that we can’t hear spirit speak through us. I make it a practice that I don’t second-guess my intuition. I don’t always act on it the first or second time out. Sometimes spirit has to smack me upside the head. But I follow my intuition in terms of how it informs me in this work. And as a result of it, I feel like I’ve been able to sustain my life force through some really horrific things.
My son was murdered 15 years ago. His case remains a cold case because I would say that law enforcement didn’t like my form of justice. Because I had expressed compassion for the young black boy who murdered my son. I was like, I’m not condoning what he did, but I just understand that in the culture in which we live, this black boy is not even seen as human. Let alone, nobody wants to hear what has happened to him, the abuse that has robbed him of his own humanity, you know? And again, I’m not condoning it, but I understand how we’re able to make decisions from this place of being fractured and broken. And I was like, I want to make sure that he gets the proper counseling, whatever therapy and healing modality that he needs, because his life is intrinsically connected to my son’s. And we’re not the things that we’ve done. We’re not the things that have happened to us. Those things are only informing who we become, they don’t define who we are. And we’re redeemable. We’re redeemable.
And so we have to look at more ways of being able to approach justice. Justice is not locking somebody up and being like, “Hey, we did it. That person is gone forever.” That person is still alive in there. And whether they do 10, 15, 20 years, or even spend the rest of their life behind bars, it’s like, let’s not rob people of their humanity. I’ve worked with cats who have killed people. And those dudes who transformed their lives, they were the ones who actually made the peace treaty possible in LA. The black community’s transformation is the transformation of the whole world.
What we have in terms of our resiliency—350 years of enslavement, 50 years of Jim Crow. I mean, we’ve only been out of enslavement, as Jesse Williams has said, for 50 years. And we’ve done phenomenal things with our resiliency. [We have to] address this racist shit in this system, in which everybody has been victimized.
I just don’t believe that all white people hate black people. No, this race-based society in which we live has taught us all to hate ourselves. And it’s so layered. We blame ourselves, and we blame each other for the experience.
And now we have a real opportunity. Something has been released.
I’ve always been a big fan of Rudolf Steiner’s work and the whole anthroposophical movement, I’ve read many of his books. And he talks about the mystery of Golgotha, the place where they pierced the side of Jesus, the Christ. It is said that when he finally died, there was a fissure, an earthquake. And he said that when Christ’s body died, it released this spirit, this etheric energy, into the world that could be harnessed to do such profound things with.
And so, I think about George Floyd calling for his mother. To me, “mama” is synonymous with God.
And I feel like something was released into the world. This is etheric energy… something has happened. A fissure occurred.
In terms of all these protests that are happening all across the country… I’m seeing it happen, and I’m hoping this is one of the things we can do: we can harness the etheric energy of this moment, of the life of George Floyd, and we can do something profound with it in terms of shifting the way in which we see safety. Because safety allows us to be able to live.
April M. Short is an editor, journalist and documentary editor and producer. She is a writing fellow at Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute. Previously, she served as a managing editor at AlterNet as well as an award-winning senior staff writer for Santa Cruz, California’s weekly newspaper. Her work has been published with the San Francisco Chronicle, In These Times, Salon and many others.
This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.