In the course of my work, I have to deal with a peculiar brand of people. That is the community activist. Now, their work is important - seeking and vanguarding equality and social justice for people in the inner city. When there's a shooting by LAPD or they administer the beatdown on black and brown people (a regular occurence in LA) these guys are on the case, demonstrating and adding pressure on the political folk to do something... When there's gang violence, they have been at the forefront of holding vigils and seeking to promote peace among the gang sets...When a case or incident breaks they are on the spot making noise... But as I have observed these folk, I have come to a few conclusions. And I have some questions. The most glaring is Who asked them to speak for us? Who made them the leaders? Why are they the leaders? Why does the mainstream media continue to give them play?
I was one of the targets in an action last year, where the activists did not agree with some moves the station made. They swiftly posted up in the lobby of the station, demanding to see the station's public file. Now this is the public's right, but it was right at a time when the station was seeking to renew its license. Accompanying this action, the "street committee" was generating rumours that the station was not black owned and we were perpetrating a myth on the black people of Los Angeles. Further the activists at the apex of this activitiy put out thousands of leaflets demanding my resignation and our program director's. The leaflet said we were black nazi's and the spirit of hitler lives in us. It was a mess... The activists accusations were totally false and misguided. I was in the background at a couple of events where I heard the activists preaching about the station's plan to sell-out the black community and that myself and others in the station were at the center of this diabolical plot. wow...
Then Hurricane Katrina hit.. we had hundreds of volunteers, mobilized black organizations from here to Mississippi, ran several tractor trailer trucks to the south.. this was a massive operation centered on self determination. But where were these activists?
During the turmoil surrounding the execution of Stanley "Tookie" WIlliams, one of the talk radio stations in town known for its extreme right wing rhetoric, ran a promotion called "Kill Tookie Hour" where they would broadcast calls from the public calling for the execution of Williams. It was a crude and sometimes racist presentation. The activists went into action calling for a press conference to denounce the station and the jocks perpetrating this promotion. But the conference was held in the safety of the 'hood, not near the offending station, right here in Leimert Park. And even worse, the jocks from the Kill Tookie Hour attended!! Like, "what you guys gonna do??"... My observance here is that the activist will storm the building of the black owned station who's trying to do good in the 'hood, but will throw rocks long distance at the white station whose rhetoric is truly showing you that they ain't checkin' for us... COWARDS!
When there is a hi-profile shooting in the community, how do these activists become "representatives of the family"? I can't tell you how many times, I get a call from the grieving mother of a youngster gunned down in senseless violence who says to me that "he does not represent us".... It is here I'll share the story fo young Byron Lee. He was 14 years old. Last year he was shot dead 19 times by gang members. He was an innocent child riding his bike on a Saturday afternoon. A car drove up and emptied 19 slugs into his young body. His death became a city wide symbol of a community that has had enough of the violence. Mucho news coverage. Every city official, county official, the state government, civl rights organizations came forward to express thier condolences and outrage against the violence in our city. I was the first in the city to interview the mother. On the following Monday morning, during my early morning talk show, my gang activist friends brought the mother to the show. We had her describe the situation. Stevie Wonder called in and offered to pay for the funeral. I said he didn't need to do that, because the community was outraged and they would come forward to handle the expenses. We raised $15,000 for the boy's funeral. I was on the news frequently and was just as frequently trying to turn away interview requests. During this time, I was instantly one of the boy's family members running to and fro making funeral arrangements. No activists. Me. But then I heard activists claiming to be "representatives of the family". One activist even took delivery on a huge fruit basket from a concerned citizen. He made sure it got to the family alright.. AFTER he ate all the fruit in the basket!!
Another activist came to me with the mom of a 12 year old that had been killed by a hit and run driver just before last Christmas. I looked the mother in the eye and tried to extend comfort and concern for her loss and tried to determine what I could do for her... The activist kept telling me that "I'm a community activist and if I could just get on the radio..." I told him I was aware of who he said he was, but I wanted to talk to the mother.. it was about her, not him... At the end of the meeting I asked the activist to bring me a description of the accident, and the official LAPD offer for reward. I would get that into our news department and on the website. To this day, he has not given me the stuff. His campaign as "repesentative of the family" was all predicated on him getting publicity for himself.
If I had time, I'd tell you about the activist who got into a fist fight with the nation of Islam, over which media would cover whom... or the activists who was physically removed from a townhall meeting dealing with gang violence because they were extremely disruptive....if you're trying to be a part of the solution, we disrupt a community meeting... because you could not lead the discussion? who are you???
This is not at all saying that everyone claiming to be an activist in Los Angeles is a less than honorable solider. But it has to be pointed out that there are a LOT of activists who are in the media on a regular basis. Who the mainstream media trusts and seeks out for comment when there is a major crisis in the city and said comment is the gauge for how the community feels on the issue. Conversely there are a few activists who are totally legitmate and strong in thier fight for equality and social justice.
We have major issues in Los Angeles. We need solid leadership. We need to do away with the frauds. We need to unify and center our movements. I mean why is the LA SCLC mad at the people who want ot open a branch office in Compton? Why is it that the church community cannot seem to unify and combat the problems of gang violence, drugs, HIV/AIDS and other issues in the 'hood. They are too busy engaging in spiritual gang banging.
Who are our leaders? and who asked them to lead?