What does the protection of a community look like, in action?
The world we live in operates off of rules and regulations, codes of conduct, and parameters that dictate how groups and individuals interact with one another. If we view our communities as organizations that live and breathe, simultaneously thriving or failing due to the actions of the people that reside inside of them, would that help us to better understand how they must be maintained? Historically, there have always been entities that existed in neighborhoods and communities that made the safety and well-being of the residents a priority.
Shortly after the founding of the Black Panther Party, two high school students, Raymond Washington and Stanley Williams created the CRIPS, an organization that at one time stood for
“Community Restoration In Progress” and “Community Resources for Independent People.” Originally established in response to the harassment and terrorization that they experienced at the hands of white police officers and their grade school peers, the children of families who fled the Jim Crow south during the Great Migration found refuge in organizing in response to a threat and found strength in unity. However, without a proper code of conduct and rules for these new street fraternities to abide by, the collective power and organization of groups such as the CRIPS and BLOODS gave rise to rivalries and violence that persist until this very day.
True community protection has always come from the interior, from those who reside within the community making the preservation and defense of it their highest priority. In New York City, the Shomrim have existed in Jewish communities of various boroughs since the late seventies, providing patrols of their respective neighborhoods in an effort to prevent and deter crime. In Mexico, numerous Grupos de Autodefensas (self-defense groups) and Policia Comunitaria (community police) were founded in response to narco-trafficking and cartel violence. Throughout the world, communities composed of people who share cultural identifiers, whether it’s race, religion, or creed have made the defense of their community a matter of great importance – so what are we waiting for?
Black communities across America have very similar experiences regardless of time zone or region. Law enforcement agencies, both local and federal, have terrorized our neighborhoods for decades. Food deserts exist in the majority of our inner cities, contributing to poor eating habits and health disparities that have impacted generations. Joblessness, unemployment, and recidivism rates continue to make members of our community statistics in the prison pipeline. We can very easily point out the issues that our communities face, but continue to fail at providing our own solutions to these problems. Relying on government agencies to create remedies for the problems that exist in our communities leads to further systemic abuses that we must then attempt to also stymie. If we take history into account, learning from our collective anecdotal experiences and empirical evidence, it becomes quite obvious that any worthwhile solutions must come from within.
Community protection is the result of organizing in response to common issues and/or enemies. The street fraternities and organizations that exist in many of our communities were founded on these very principles. Unfortunately, the path chosen by most of these groups is rooted in the crime, death, and destruction that continues to cripple the very neighborhoods and communities they reside in. Without guidelines, rules of engagement, and a clear understanding of who the true enemies are internally and externally for Black communities, we will continue to need protection from the organizations and individuals who were once capable of providing the protection and safety we are so desperately seeking.