Community Violence and Racial Tensions

Community Violence and Racial Tensions

Led by Kizito Kalima – Peace Center for Forgiveness and Reconciliation and Martha Lamkin – Your Life Matters Taskforce

Each session began discussing why violence in neighborhoods and racial tensions are such grave concerns. Violence hurts the reputation of the city. It also hurts people even if they are not the direct victims of violence. Violence causes people to be anxious. It contributes to worsening poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and increased numbers of guns on the streets as people feel they must be able to protect themselves. One attendee said that people who feel like exiles in their own country could become frustrated and “act out.” And even apart from guns in the street, many people aren’t safe in their own homes because of domestic violence.

The conversations spent time discussing the root causes of violence and of racial tensions. Some hypotheses:

  • A hyper-masculine culture that glorifies violence, plus technology and games that encourage violence
  • Lack of personal skills to resolve conflicts
  • An inability or unwillingness to accept the value and dignity of “the other.” This can mean not understanding other points of view
  • Inequalities in the justice system, which can lead to a loss of hope
  • Repeatedly, a shortage of jobs and lack of opportunities was mentioned as a source of racial tensions and violence

There was no shortage of solutions suggested. Some solutions to violence were personal: call 911 quickly, and carry a stick when you go out walking. Some solutions were personal, but more ambitious. Learn more about other cultures to avoid misunderstandings and to encourage reciprocity. Try to have real conversations about race and the underlying causes of racial tensions. Start with your friends for these conversations, then reach out to people who possess more diverse views. These conversations can take place in churches, schools, and neighborhoods. Everyone should be an activist, an advocate for justice, an ally of fairness.

Some solutions addressed institutions that should change. The school system, some argued, should increase opportunities and better connect kids to jobs. Many suggestions were made of the criminal justice system. Right now, it was said, in some communities there’s an ingrained fear of police, even among women and seniors. There needs to be better relations between police and the community (e.g. through a revival of community policing). The high rates of incarceration were identified as problems: even before constructing a new justice center, we should first address problems such as unrealistic bail and unequal penalties.

The news media were identified as needing changes. Too often, it was said, the news looks only at crime and violence without showing positive things in communities such as high school graduations. The focus on violence turns more toward black perpetrators, reinforcing stereotypes. This means some blacks don’t feel they have to live up to higher standards.

Many people identified attitudes as the main cause, and conversation as the best way to change attitudes. One person identified indifference as the real enemy; it’s hard to feel indifferent to someone with whom you have had meaningful conversations. Be active in your neighborhood, it was said, get to know people, help others. Start with your own block, then broaden your connections.


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