The Woodson Center family lost one of our own on Memorial Day. Makhi Buckly, the 19-year-old grandson of
one of our most faithful leaders in youth violence prevention, was fatally shot in Hartford, Conn. Makhi was a student athlete in his freshman year at American International College in Springfield, Mass. When Carl called to tell me the terrible news, his words broke my heart: “It’s my job to keep kids safe, but I can’t even protect my own grandson.”
Our grief is shared by hundreds of minority families that have lost children to senseless violence over the past year. In June 2020, 3-year-old
was killed on his way home from a haircut, riding in the back seat of a car in Chicago. A week later, 10-year-old
Lena Marie Nunez-Anaya
was killed after a stray bullet came through the window of her Chicago apartment. In July 2020, 7-year-old
was shot in the forehead as she played outside, also in Chicago. Eleven-year-old
was struck by a stray bullet shortly after a Fourth of July peace cookout organized by his mother in Washington. In April, 11-month-old Dior Harris was shot and killed in the back seat of a car in Syracuse, N.Y. Two other children who were riding in the same car were also wounded.
Over the past few years, the deaths of unarmed black people at police hands—including the murder of
—have rightly generated national outrage. But the number of unarmed blacks killed by police represents a fraction of those who are killed each day in our neighborhoods. Many of these victims are children. In 2020 nearly four children and teens were shot and killed each day in America on average. Yet the national press habitually ignores any victim who isn’t killed by the police, distorting our understanding of what is really going on.
The movement to “defund the police,” which rose to prominence after Floyd’s death, has actually gotten innocent black people killed. As police have pulled back, our neighborhoods have been left unprotected. Crime has skyrocketed. Major American cities saw a 33% increase in homicides last year as a pandemic swept across the country. Preliminary Federal Bureau of Investigation data show that the U.S. murder rate increased by 25% in 2020. Between Dec. 11, 2020, and March 28, 2021 (after the Minneapolis City Council unanimously approved a budget that shifted $8 million from the police department to other programs), murders in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, rose 46% compared with the same period the year before.
Homicide rates in large cities are up 24% since January. Criminologist
an adjunct professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former sergeant with the New York Police Department, predicts they’ll increase even more this year. A recent Gallup poll found that 81% of black people say they don’t want less police presence in their communities.
As radical progressives continue to try to defund the police, our families, friends and neighbors have paid the price. And now, people like my friend Carl have to wonder whether a child’s death could have been prevented if a police officer had been there to stop it. The defund-the-police movement has been a death sentence for innocent black children. Parents and grandparents suffer mightily from the grief.
I have dedicated much of my life to solving the problem of violence in America’s low-income neighborhoods, and I can tell you that the answer isn’t to slash police funding. For decades, the Woodson Center has invested in community leaders and groups like the Alliance of Concerned Men in Washington. They’ve demonstrated their ability to transform the lives of the most hardened gang members by mentoring and empowering them to change themselves. Our leaders hold events with young people to help them create a vision for success that doesn’t involve violence. Central to the program are the Youth Advisors, mature young adults who serve as mentors and are from the same neighborhoods as the students in the schools they serve.
In 1997, with the Woodson Center’s coaching and support, the alliance mediated a conflict between two rival gangs in Washington’s Benning Terrace neighborhood that had claimed 53 lives, including a 12-year-old boy, over two years. After five years of involvement, Benning Terrace experienced a significant decrease in gang-related murders that continues today.
This year the Woodson Center launched Voices of Black Mothers United to help parents, young people, community leaders and law enforcement work together to end violence in our neighborhoods. The group is strongly opposed to efforts to defund the police, advocating instead for measures that ensure responsible policing, including de-escalation training. Voices of Black Mothers United plans to launch a National Police Accountability Hotline for community members to anonymously report the bad and good in their neighborhoods.
Over the past year, we have focused too much on oppression from outside the black community and not enough on what’s happening inside our neighborhoods. Our kids have been paying the price. It’s time to rally around the police and our families to work for healing, protection and transformation.
Mr. Woodson is founder and president of the Woodson Center and editor of “Red, White and Black: Rescuing American History from Revisionists and Race Hustlers.”
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