by J. Coyden Palmer
CHICAGO – Three weeks after the Nation of Islam sent dozens of men into some of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods to help quell violence, the reaction to their presence has been mixed from organizations that have been on the front lines of fighting crime in Chicago for years.
Organizations such as Ceasefire and longtime independent community activist Andrew Holmes welcome the NOI presence. But other organizations, such as the Willie Williams Youth Foundation, and dozens of residents were not impressed.
For two Mondays in a row, Nation of Islam men dressed in their traditional suits and bow ties, dispersed throughout violence-plagued Chicago neighborhoods – first in Auburn-Gresham, then South Shore. They formed a human wall of protection and according to Chicago police there were no incidents of violence in those areas on that day. They also passed out copies of the Nation of Islam's newspaper, "The Final Call," and DVDs titled, "Justifiable Homicide: Black Youth in Peril." They also went door to door and spoke with residents. Although some did not open their doors, many spoke with NOI members through the windows.
Willie Williams Jr. lost his son, Willie Williams III, to a senseless act of violence outside a local movie theatre on April 1, 2006. Since then, he has been committed to action against violence in Chicago. He started a youth foundation that bears his son's name. Recently, Williams had to have both of his kidneys replaced after doctors discovered cancer. Now cancer free, he is anxious to get back to the work of running the foundation, but has serious reservations about Farrakhan's role in stopping violence in Chicago.
"You have to start by going to the gang members on their turf and engaging in constructive conversation with them," Williams said. "You can't just come in and pass out literature and hope the presence of your celebrity will bring about a change. I'm so tired of organizations and people saying that if they had a certain amount of money they would do this or that; it's a lot of people out here with resources who are just flaunting it."
Much of the consternation that Williams and other critics have with the NOI is they have yet to lay out a transparent long-term plan, which they say is vital to any program's success. The NOI has not released its plans to the media and Farrakhan would not take questions from the press even when he was out on the streets with his followers last month.
"I didn't hear any concrete solutions to the problems. I didn't hear or see them talking about implementing a security plan for these neighborhoods," said Dave Jackson, who lives in the South Shore community, the second neighborhood NOI members visited earlier this month. "They were mostly talking to people about how black people need to unify, learn their history and have love for one another. I think that's good and all, but a rallying message is not what we need right now. So to me it seemed like they were just trying to recruit people to the Nation."
Tio Hardiman, the Illinois director for Ceasefire, applauds Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam for stepping into the fray.
"We need all hands on deck," Hardiman said. "Everybody needs to play a role because a lot of organizations cannot reach everybody. The Nation of Islam may be able to reach a certain segment of the population. We need black leaders to champion the cause right now."
Hardiman is hoping Farrakhan's depth of knowledge on the history of African- American people will help educate "the cowards who are out here killing children."
"There is an internal fight that these young brothers don't really understand. We have to bring them the right information to help them liberate their minds," Hardiman said. "It's the mindset that has to change. Black youth are killing each other in record numbers because they do not know who they are and what they represent. Everything that they represent is false because nobody is winning in regards to how they have been raised or how they have been taught. Many of them have been taught the wrong information."
Holmes, who works closely with the police department and residents of the community as an unofficial conduit, said he has yet to be contacted by anyone from the Nation about collaborating on events to stop the violence, adding that he believes unifying all of the community organizations will be an important step. He also said the way members of the Nation address Black men on the street in a dignified, respectful way goes a long way. Still, the most powerful weapon the community has is good parenting because then there is no need for people to have to be linked to any specific organization, he said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy support the NOI's efforts.
"They have decided, the Nation of Islam, to help protect (the) community and that's an important ingredient like all the other aspects of protecting a neighborhood," Emanuel said. "You cannot get there on just one piece of an anti-crime strategy."
In the 1990's the Nation of Islam Security Agency Inc. was awarded a $4.3 million contract to patrol 16 public housing units in Baltimore, Md. The same agency was also awarded contracts in 10 other U.S. cities, including Chicago, by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Those contracts came under heavy congressional scrutiny and eventually HUD canceled them for "contract bidding irregularities" and questions about how the NOI Security Agency won the bid. It also faced scrutiny from federal agencies for racial and gender preference in hiring and from the IRS for failure to withhold taxes from employees. However, HUD officials maintained the cancellation was not based on job performance, which had great reviews in Washington D.C. public housing, but not so good reviews in other cities, according to HUD.
(Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Crusader)