Philadelphia, April 11, 2012 – On Monday, Mayor Michael A. Nutter spoke in Tallahassee, Florida at Mayor John R. Marks’ 9th Annual Summit on Race, Culture and Human Relations. Mayor Nutter’s speech was entitled: “Cities United: Building Consensus about the deaths of African American males”.
Check remarks against delivery. The speech follows:
“On February 26th, on a rainy evening in Florida, Trayvon Martin was assassinated. Today, there is a U.S. Department of Justice grand jury, thousands of protestors chanting, and millions of Americans wanting to know what happened that night…just 250 miles away from here.
The eyes of a nation are on Florida. Our country is wondering “how could this have happened”, “how could this have been prevented”, and “who’s to blame”. It’s easy to say who pulled the trigger, but it’s harder to answer the larger questions Trayvon’s death have raised because his story is told across America each and every day.
Right now, young, black males are dying in America. What are we going to do about it?
In the United States today, one in three African American men will have contact with the criminal justice system at some point during their lives. Of the 316 people who were murdered in Philadelphia last year, nearly 75% of those killed were black men. Around 80% of those doing the killing…black men. Black on black crime is not an isolated problem. It affects every member of every community. It raises our public safety costs throughout the country; reduces cities’ budgets for recreation centers, libraries, education, and other services; and we lose generations of young men to violence or prison.
As Dr. King once wrote, we are all “tied together in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This is a national problem with national implications, and there needs to be a national conversation.
As the Mayor of the largest American city with an African American mayor, I feel an obligation to speak out about this epidemic.
Now is the time to speak out and have an honest conversation. Now is the time to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. We are running out of time. If we do not have the urgency to stand up now and say “enough”, then when?
I want to tell you a little about myself, and why I believe this is such an important issue to our cities and our nation.
I was raised by my parents in West Philadelphia, a series of neighborhoods full of tree lined streets, row homes, and tightly-knit blocks. I grew up in a proud, working class community. My parents knew everyone on our block. I was expected to be helpful, to sweep the sidewalk or to help older neighbors with their groceries.
I was also expected to be home as soon as the street lights went on; it was inconceivable that I would be somewhere alone after dark. After graduating from high school on a scholarship, I attended the University of Pennsylvania and after working in the private sector for a time, I felt the pull of public service.
And now, I am honored to be the Mayor of my hometown.
During these past decades, I have seen a change in the neighborhoods where I grew up. The sense of community has diminished and the collective responsibility of neighbors, who ate together, celebrated together and lived together seems, at times, out of style. As some of our neighborhoods declined, so did the dreams and expectations of those who lived there. Young men who once believed that a high school diploma would lead to a stable, blue collar job realized that this was no longer the case.
These jobs were outsourced, wages stagnated, and manufacturing plants closed. Families fell apart, crime flourished and hope became a luxury. Some parents failed to take responsibility for their children and then their children did the same. The cycles of poverty, crime, and diminished opportunities took its toll on neighborhoods in cities across America. The opportunities for Americans, especially African American men with a high school degree or less, became fewer and more elusive.
So how do cities confront a challenge that is decades in the making?
Crime doesn’t just happen. This poisonous fruit grows in a culture that crushes opportunities, security, and hope. Criminals terrorize communities and decent, hardworking people become afraid to speak out and take back their neighborhoods. And so the cycle will continue unless we’re willing to talk about this without fear or pretense. It will continue unless we directly identify and address the conditions that lead to violence.
In 2011, 75% of Philadelphia’s homicides were African American males—that’s 230 people. If the Ku Klux Klan came to Philadelphia and killed 230 black men, the city would be on lockdown. If 230 Americans were sickened by tainted spinach, the USDA would begin a nationwide recall. If 230 Americans were killed in a train accident, the National Transportation Safety Board would mobilize, and there would be Congressional hearings on train safety. Congress is good at holding hearings, but are they “listening?”
However, 230 African American men murdered in one city… not one word. No hearings, no investigations, nothing—but silence. On September 11, 2001, the United States suffered a horrific attack on our country and our citizens. A year later, this attack led to the 9/11 Commission, which laid out the reasons how this happened and how it could have been prevented. September 11th resulted in a full scale change of airline security in America and around the world. You can hardly cough in an airport without the TSA doing a check.
An entirely new Cabinet-level position was started, the Department of Homeland Security, to deal with the new programs, systems and bureaucracy, which were created to manage these changes. Even two wars are the result of September 11th.
On that day in 2001, there were 2,977 victims.
In 2011, there were 515 homicides in New York City.
In Boston – 63
Washington D.C. – 108
Baltimore – 196
Philadelphia – 324
Los Angeles – 298
New Orleans – 199
Chicago – 433
Atlanta – 87
Detroit – 344
Newark – 91
Memphis – 147
In 2011 in these thirteen major cities in the United States, there were 2,981 homicide victims. And that’s only from last year. If you want to know the number of homicides in America since 2001, you should multiple that number by ten.
What if our response to domestic terrorism was as thorough and engaged as our response to international terrorism? The contrast in our country’s reaction to this violence is astounding. We created the TSA, the Transportation Security Administration, now we need the WASA, the Walking Around Security Administration.
We need to start the conversation on a national level that this is an epidemic because crime is a symptom of so many other challenges. We need to consider this a public health crisis because violence is at unsustainable levels in our communities and killing our fathers, brothers and sons. Black men are becoming an endangered species in America, locked up or dead. We know that these individuals participating in the criminal lifestyle are more likely to face health issues and chronic diseases. They’re more likely to grow up and live in stressful homes, and they’re more likely to spread violence like a virus to others in their communities.
Crime also breeds upon itself. After serving their time, many of the individuals who are released from our prisons cannot find work and do not have the training or literacy skills to keep a job. And so, these folks quickly fall back into the criminal lifestyle to make ends meet. Everyone knows that a man with a stable career and family is less likely to commit a crime than someone living on the edge, unable to get or keep a job.
And this is not simply a post-recession challenge. In 2007 before the recession, the unemployment rate for African American men over 25 with less than a high school diploma was 12%. In 2010, it was 24.7%. The Great Recession has taken a toll on many Americans of all races, ages and socioeconomic positions. However, it has clearly had an irrefutable and disproportionate impact on African American men placing them at an even worse disadvantage to their peers.
The Federal government last looked at this problem in the late 1960s with the Kerner Commission Report, in the aftermath of national riots and cities in flames.
This report read “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal.”
The Commission laid out the issues and offered recommendations to overcome this violence:
• We need better housing for black men and women outside of impoverished areas,
• We need to invest in public education,
• We need major public works projects that include job training,
• We need to strengthen the safety net.
Relevant then, still relevant and needed now.
But the Federal government decided to ignore these findings and so these problems just become more and more entrenched. And we still refuse to confront this challenge as a nation. We justify this with self-deception: “that’s not happening in my neighborhood”; “they’re only killing each other”; and “there’s nothing we can do about it”.
The real issue is—does white America care about black folks dying in the streets?
But I refuse to look away. I won’t be quiet. Americans tackle problems. We fix things; we make life better.
And we should be able to confront more than one challenge at a time.
So this past year, a number of mayors, including Mayor Marks, and I decided that enough was enough. Cities need to take ownership and lead on this issue because when we find the solution, it’s going to come from urban America.
This is not just a Philadelphia issue. This is not just a Tallahassee issue. This is a national issue. And so we started by getting the facts to answer the question: what is happening in the streets and why?
I am partnering with mayors across the country through Cities United—a new initiative specifically aimed at addressing the causes and impact of African American male violence. Homicide is currently the leading cause of death for African American males between the ages of 15 and 24. If it were heart disease, health professionals would be studying this to find out why.
And so, Cities United seeks to:
• Raise awareness and identify the root causes of this violence;
• Work with the Federal government, states, philanthropic organizations, and communities to address these challenges; and
• To offer possible solutions.
Working with mayors across the country, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, as well as philanthropic partners like Casey Family Programs, we have begun a serious conversation about the epidemic of African American male homicides.
We are working with partners from throughout the country:
• The Open Society Foundation,
• The Knight Foundation,
• Students Peace Alliance,
• The Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement,
• G-L.A.W Outertainment, Inc.,
• Forum for Youth Investment,
• Youth in Action,
• Mikva Challenge,
• Foster Skills,
• Temple University School of Medicine,
• Anti-Violence Anti-Drug network,
• Association of Black Foundation Executives
• Grantmakers for Children Youth and Families.
We have many, many partners who recognize the seriousness of this situation and the need to work together.
This discussion includes a committed effort to stem the proliferation of illegal guns in our cities; guns which are wiping out an entire generation of African American men and boys. And it’s mayors who see this violence every day. In January in Philadelphia, a young man shot up a car full of seven kids. He killed three children that night and left others with critical injuries. I visited their schools. I spoke at their neighborhood church. I called those who loved them most. Because that’s what mayors do. We’re on the front lines and see this violence in our cities. We’re joining together because this has to stop.
As part of this effort, we’re identifying some very practical steps that cities can take.
In Philadelphia, my Administration is working closely with our District Attorney to get individuals with illegal guns off the streets. As I often say to those with illegal guns, “Got a Gun, Go to Jail”. I’m not talking about legally purchased guns that people use for protection. I am talking about illegal guns bought from straw purchasers and used in shootings in cities throughout America. For an illegal firearm, there is a $500 reward for every tip we receive that leads to an arrest and conviction. If you have information about a homicide, we’ll give you a $20,000 reward for tips that lead to an arrest and conviction.
This month, we are restarting Operation Pressure Point, which deploys our police officers into the areas with the highest proportion of violent crime in the city. This effort receives a tremendous amount of help from our Federal partners: the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, ATFE, DEA, and the U.S. Marshalls. I really would like to thank Vice President Biden and Attorney General Holder for their ongoing support despite limited resources allocated by Congress for domestic security.
Furthermore, we are encouraging business owners to register their surveillance cameras with our police department so that when a crime happens, the police can quickly get their hands on the evidence, which can lead to an arrest.
Next week, we’ll be convening our partner stakeholder groups from across the city who want to participate in our outreach efforts, which are like those from the “Interrupters” video you viewed.
These men and women will be on the front lines confronting and preventing violence where they’ll have the most impact. They will meet with individuals who have suffered from violence and will work to prevent retaliation and help communities to heal. They’ll be a new kind of first responder and are critical to our public safety strategy.
These efforts on the enforcement and outreach sides can be effective. But, at the end of the day, that’s not going to keep the next generation safe. What we need to do—as cities, states and as a nation—is invest in education.
Education is our public safety strategy. Education is our poverty strategy. Education is our health strategy. Education is our economic development strategy. Education is central to everything we’re trying to accomplish.
In Philadelphia, I have set two goals:
• To increase the high school graduation rate to 80% by 2015. We’re currently at 61%, up from 55% four years ago.
• To increase the number of residents with a four year degree from 18% to 36% by 2018. Right now, we’re at about 23% attainment.
These aren’t lofty goals. They are attainable and essential targets to reach if Philadelphia is to compete nationally and internationally. If more young people went to school, stayed in school, graduated and went on to training or college, we’d have less poverty, less crime, more jobs.
Every New Years Day, clergy and I visit inmates in the city prisons. I talk with them—men, women, and yes, juveniles. This year, I met a young man named Kent who is 17 years old. Kent was sentenced to 7 to 20 years for four armed robberies. He told me he got about $2,000. But he also told me that he had a 3.6 GPA and scored a 1400 on his SATs. Colleges were still sending letters to his parents house trying to get him to apply.
His story is a failure by the entire system to respond to the needs of young African American men and boys.
We are leaving children behind every day in failing schools, no longer safe havens. Many simply do not offer the education and training our young people need to succeed.
But I strongly believe if we invest in education, we can keep our children out of prison and in college.
Like many families throughout the country, I have a child in public schools.
And like many parents, I am appalled by the attacks on public education happening throughout the country.
In the last 2 years, Pa’s Governor has cut funding for schools and higher education by hundreds of millions of dollars, but this year, our Governor did propose an increase to the corrections budget. In Florida, Governor Scott proposed a 10% budget cut to education funding. If our kids got a good education and a good job, then maybe we could actually close some prisons. When did jails become a priority over schools in our country?
Today in Philadelphia, 60% of our jobs require some level of postsecondary education; however, only 46% of Philadelphians have a degree or skilled training. If we want to compete, to succeed in a global integrated market, we cannot ignore the education of our young people. It’s the greatest economic investment we can make. If we can educate more of our young people, we’d be able to cut taxes and at the same time, generate more revenue to invest in our communities.
And in addition to education, now is the time for adults to take responsibility for the young people in our lives. Whether it is your children, your nieces or nephews, your students, your employees or kids who live on your block, we are the adults who should be mentors. In Philadelphia, we have started the Graduation Coaches Campaign, which gives adults the tools they need to be able to help the student in their life succeed in high school and graduate from college. We also have a Save Summer Jobs campaign, which encourages businesses to invest in the next generation with paid jobs for young people. A summer job will help a kid to learn the value of work and to keep out of trouble. Young people need to see how to be successful and how to make good choices. And it is our responsibility, as adults, to be role models for them.
As President Obama said while in Philadelphia, we are working “to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America”.
This challenge is formidable, but it is not impossible. This call cannot just come from mayors. We need states, the Federal government, non-profits, stakeholders, business leaders, and residents to join together.
• Cities can have their police get the illegal guns off the streets, but without help, we cannot prevent them from getting there in the first place.
• Cities can invest strategically in teachers and students, but we cannot continue to provide a high-quality education for all students if we have no funding.
• Cities can offer tax breaks and incentives for employers to hire the formerly incarcerated, but if businesses refuse to hire them, how can they provide for their families and end a life of crime?
That is why it is critical that as mayors raise the alarm of this public health crisis of violence, we continue to reach out to our partners throughout the country.
This is a national issue that deserves a national conversation, and if that happens, change can begin.
• Change begins by reuniting our neighborhoods, our communities, and our families living in our nation’s cities, which have been torn apart thread by thread.
• Change begins by investing in the future instead of trying to hide the past.
• Change begins when you cut through the veil of political silence and begin to speak truthfully.
• Change begins when you say enough.
• Change will begin with us.
The tragic death of Trayvon Martin sparked a conversation that needed to happen in America. But Trayvon should not have had to go to sleep for America to wake up.
It cannot end here. There are thousands of Trayvon Martins in America’s cities each year, and we need to help them. Every day, not just when it’s a hot topic on TV.
We will say what needs to be said but hasn’t been; we will do what needs to be done but hasn’t happened. Let the conversation, and the work, begin.