by Brienne Kenlock
On April 9th, a panel discussion was held in the Faculty Dining Room concerning the issue of violence and other ills that befall the African-American community. The event, “Do Black Lives Matter to Black People”, centered on the effects of violence from the panelists who lost loved ones to tragedy or experienced it.
“My son was shot 17 times over a parking spot. It is a pain you never get over, no mother should have to bury their child”, Dorothy Johnson-Speight said in her speech. “Mothers In Charge helped me live again, it gave me a purpose”. Johnson-Speight is the founder and director of the Philadelphia-based organization, Mothers In Charge, which focuses on helping young adults, families, and communities that have been affected by violence. They also focus their attention on mentoring at-risk youth who would most likely wind up repeating the cycle. Her story can be found on the MIC website.
This panel discussion was in response to recent events, such as the Trayvon Martin, Akai Gurley and Freddie Grey cases. In the Jamaica area, 19-year-old Peyton Manwarring was killed last year on Halloween night. Manwarring’s death had hit the York College community hard, even to friends and family who knew him. Like others in the Jamaica community who lost their loved ones to violence, Manwarring’s family had attended the panel discussion.
Vincent Banrey, the Dean of Students, recalled how he still prays that his sons are safe every day and how his experience as a rookie police officer led him to pursue a career in education. Like those affected by violence, he added, “Life is a very important thing. To take a life at such a young age is very devastating. We need to say ‘No more’”.
Sugar Wright, who is a retired police officer, spoke at the panel about the attitudes which contribute to misunderstands in the black community. Specifically, police officers whom have been the subject of a negative stigma due to recent events. “There is one thing I want to address: most of us are not rogue cops”, she added, noting that there others who have abused their authority. Wright is also the founder of the Jamaica organization, Keep Our Streets Safe.
Another aspect that was covered at the panel was the influence of culture and what role it has played directly or indirectly, when it came to violence. Alumni Donald Vernon Esq. spoke on his experiences as a father on disciplining his children and what they had to do if they were stopped by police.
“I always told my kids: ‘put your shoulders down, have a less aggressive stance’. I believe no father should be forced to have that talk with their children, but after Trayvon Martin, we have to change that mindset on how we interact with police”, Vernon Esq. said.
Ashley Oliver, who is a writer for Pandora’s Box, responded that social media does play a role in what people think is acceptable when it comes to acting in certain situations.
“Sometimes on social media, I read posts and they would have gang symbols or people encouraging bad behavior”, she said. “Why is doing bad acknowledged as acceptable? That mindset has to change”. She also spoke about anger and hopelessness, two things that lead to people committing crimes.
Ron Daniels, a political science professor, noted that there is a paradox within the black community; people are concerned with police brutality and the justice system, and on the other hand, there are worries about being attacked from someone from the community. The black community faces a double-edged sword.
Another panelist, Gregory Hetmeyer, an Alumni and member of the Social Work Club for York, responded to a question from panel mediator Ron Daniels if restorative justice could be one answer. He said, “As a society, we are taught to value violence to solve problems. It’s a pipe dream to think that a prison sentence is going to solve anything because when someone gets out, they can’t adjust in society”.
Johnson-Speight, like other panelists, called attention to statistics. “Homicide is the leading cause of death among African-American males. Yet, there is no outrage about that”.
“There should be outrage when an officer shoots an innocent, but there should be the same amount of outrage when a black person is killed by someone who looks like them”, said Sugar Wright.
Near the end of the panel discussion, members of Mothers In Charge came to the front and shared with audience on helping the community. Some of the members were involved in crime and joined the organization to help others avoid the path they went through. Other people from the audience shared their experiences with violence and thanked the panel for holding the discussion.
“At the end of the day, all life matters”, said Hetmeyer.