What's Worse, Community Violence or Police Violence?

It's not a Contest. It's all bad. There, I've said it. I guess I don't have to write this commentary now because the headline says it all. But let me explain what I mean. You see I get really perplexed when I see or hear statements about how one is more of a problem than the other, or one is more important to deal with than the other. I just don't get it. It's almost like it's some sort of contest. Well it's not! It's all bad!

Look, I get that certain wrongs get people so outraged that they want something done and want things to change--because they must. Police misconduct and police violence in the community is certainly that. It has gone on far too long and absolutely needs to stop. The recent indictment of police officer Jason Van Dyke in the shooting of Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald is just the latest example of this. The Black Lives Matter Movement that has sprung up to do something about it is absolutely essential and must continue until things change. And quite frankly I can't understand why anyone has a problem with that.

Likewise, the violence we experience every day in the community must also be addressed. The targeting of 9 year old Tyshawn Lee in a gang related shooting also in Chicago (allegedly because of his own father's involvement in a rival gang) is equally devastating. Lacquan and Tyshawn were both gunned down--one at the hands of a member of the police department, the other at the hands of a member of the community. Both incidents make me sick to my stomach.

In my book Street Soldier: One Man's Struggle to Save a Generation-One Life at a Time, (Delacorte Press 1996) I put it this way:

"As far as I'm concerned, the bad homie and the bad cop play the same game. (Neither one of them are overly concerned about black lives.) As I tell the kids when they complain about the harassment they get from the cops, if police banging isn't right, then gangbanging isn't either." P. 112.


Black Lives Matter has chosen to focus on police violence and police misconduct. Somebody needs to focus on it. Those of you who are telling them what else they need to do, please leave them alone. Police violence is a big enough problem on its own and one that's going to take a lot of work and a lot of change and reform. Black Lives Matter I applaud you for taking it on. Keep your eyes on the prize.
At the same time there are of those of us who are working equally as hard on the problem of community violence--and believe me we know what we're up against. Crack cocaine and the war on drugs that followed pretty much decimated and destroyed the infrastructure of the black community and left a path of destruction in its wake. It's recovery time and that takes a lot of work too.

Let me tell you what makes me angry. It's certainly not Black Lives Matter or those people and community members and organizations who are working to do something about these two life and death issues. They care enough to try and do something. What makes me angry are all the folks on the sidelines doing NOTHING AT ALL. You know-all the pundits, all the talking heads and all the folks who just talk and complain and criticize. James Brown called it 'Talking loud and saying nothing.' I learned early on that you're either part of the problem or part of the solution. If you're not out there trying to do something.......well I think you see where I'm going here. Maybe it's that folks don't care enough--I don't know. I'm just glad that there are people who do care enough to be out there trying to fix things.

I know I feel lucky because I get to impact both. As a member of the San Francisco Police Commission, the city's civilian oversight body, I have a say in everything from department policy to budget to discipline. And yes-we have fired officers that we found to be guilty of misconduct or improper use of force. Are we perfect? No. Not by a long shot. Do we have problems? Of course we do. But we're committed to making an impact on the issue of police violence and police misconduct.

And as co-founder and Executive Director of Alive & Free--well that speaks for itself. For the last 28 years this organization has been working hard to stop the violence in the community and will continue to do so.

So pick the one that gets your fires stoked and get to work on it--and then stay to work on it because police violence and community violence are both huge problems. It's not a matter of dealing with one or the other--we've got to deal with both. Stop talking and commenting and complaining and start doing. We teach the kids here at Alive & Free that if you want things to change, then change begins with you. Both of these problems have to be fixed. Just don't make it into a contest--because it's not. Our goal should be that everyone everywhere is ALIVE & FREE.