For the past two months, on Friday evenings around 7 p.m., the Starbucks at the intersection at Rainier Ave. S. and Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. transforms from a neighborhood coffee shop into a gathering place for Black men confronting Black-on-Black violence. Sometimes, two men show up, sometimes, five. But whatever their numbers, they sit down and talk about the trials and tribulations confronting young Black people, before heading out into the city to meet those young people face-to-face.
One of the coffee-shop regulars is Pastor Craig Jackson of King of Glory Worldwide Ministries. Munching on a dessert he'd just purchased, he says his eight week participation in street outreach resulted from a higher calling.
"God spoke to my spirit and told me to partner with this grass-roots organization," says Jackson.
The organization he's talking about -- the Black-on-Black Crime Coalition (BBCC) -- finds its genesis in a tragic event last Easter that touched King County Councilmember Larry Gossett.
It was then that a member of Gossett's extended family was shot five times, says Larry Evans, the councilmember's assistant. Alive, but in critical condition, the young man was rushed to Harborview Medical Center. (After a four-month hospital stay, the relative was released in early August.)
Several weeks after the Easter shooting, one Saturday evening, Evans says the councilmember had gone out with his wife. He returned to discover that a Black male neighbor had been killed in a hail of gunfire. "[Councilmember Gossett] showed me where it happened," says Evans, "and it was literally right across the street from his home." Both the shooting and the death, he says, caused the councilmember, who had long been concerned with crime in general, to look for a pro-active solution to address Black-on-Black violence.
"That was at the beginning of the summer, and Juneteenth was coming," says Evans, speaking of the holiday that falls on June 19, a date that serves as an annual commemoration of slavery's demise in the United States. (Even though the Emancipation Proclamation officially mandated U.S. slavery would end Jan. 1, 1863, slaves in Texas didn't find out they were free until June 19, 1865, more than 2.5 years later.)
Along with cause for celebration, Juneteenth has historically signified a time when the Black community comes together to discuss important issues. In Seattle, such a discussion took place at a town hall meeting held at Rainier Beach High School. Evans says that meeting, which was attended by more than 200 people, birthed a grass-roots movement with its sights set on Black-on-Black violence.
There's cause for concern. According to information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS,) national rates for Black-on-Black homicides, while still high, have fallen over the past 30 years. In 1976, Black-on-Black homicide claimed 6,855 lives, compared to 4,497 lives in 2005. "Although slightly less true now than before," the BJS continues, "most murders are intra-racial: 94 percent of Black victims were killed by Blacks" from 1976 to 2005. (Intra-racial homicides between white people topped out at 86 percent for the same time period.)
But comparing those statistics with local numbers is all but impossible. A spokesman for the Seattle Police department says the department does not keep statistics for intra-racial homicides within the city, be they Black-on-Black murders or white-on-white.
Fueled not so much by statistics but by a sense that something, anything, must be done, many attendees at the town hall meeting agreed to meet weekly at the Central Area Motivation Program in the Central District. A number of subcommittees arose from those meetings, including ones geared toward the creation of a Black curriculum for schools, the attainment of corporate jobs, church involvement in the acquisition of long-term housing, and Black male outreach to Black youth in impacted neighborhoods. Along with these efforts, BBCC members decided they needed to make their presence felt.
On Aug. 7, an evening known as National Night Out, where cities across the country confront crime, close to 30 BBCC members spent the early evening hours at Third Ave. and Pike St. There, they hoisted signs calling for an end to violence. Among those participating was Kelly Jefferson, a Seattle native. Jefferson, 38, who served eight years in prison on a drug offense, says that when Black people sell crack to each other, it's just another form of violence. "You're taking down the community with drugs," says Jefferson, "by selling it to people who look like you."
And, he says, even though the drugs that adversely affect the Black community are not brought into the country by community members, it's people within the Black community who suffer. "Black people only make up 13 percent of America, yet we make up [a huge part] of the prison population," he says.
Indeed, the BJS reports that, at the end of 2005, there were 3,145 Black male prisoners for every 100,000 Black males in the country. For every 100,000 white males, 471 were prison inmates.
Locally, the statistics aren't much better. Even though Seattle has a Black population of about 8 percent and King County slightly more than 5 percent, Evans says that 40 percent of the men locked up downtown or at the Regional Justice Center in Kent are Black.
Both Evans and Jefferson are part of the Friday evening effort, along with Pastor Jackson, to interact with young Black people on the street. Pastor Jackson says so far, the group has talked to youth at 23rd Ave. and Union St., and the intersection of Rainier Ave. S. and S. Henderson St. "We tell them, 'We're not the police,'" says Jackson. "We're Black men and we have a message from the heart."
Jefferson says that, sometimes, it's hard to ask young people to come off the streets, when there's nothing to offer in return, like a job. Along with employment, he says they need life skills. "But most importantly, they need love," he says.
Evans agrees. Noting that the oppression that resulted from slavery continues to affect the Black community on a deep level to this day, he says outreach could be a start to dismantling hundreds of years of learned self-hatred. "We would like to see our people love and appreciate ourselves, and value who we are," says Evans. "An element of self-hatred has to be present to kill each other way we do."