Sunday, March 7, 2010
Hundreds March for Peace in Memory of Alisha Neely
Post, photos, and video by the Hawthorne Hawkman.
I've heard it asked before, "What good do these marches do?" I'm not sure how to answer that question. But I had been thinking this week about a sermon I'd heard shortly after 9/11, called "What do you do when the bomb drops?" When a person or a community has had a BOMB dropped on them, what do you do in response? What CAN you do?
With that in mind, I went to the parking lot of Cub Foods on Broadway Saturday morning...
...and heard KG Wilson speak for the first time. He was standing in front of the Mad Dads mobile unit, saying the lines that have already resonated through our community: "We've got to put the 'neighbor' back in the 'hood.' Because if you don't, you welcome in the hoodlums, the gangbangers, the drug dealers, saying, 'Come on in; kill our kids.'"
Wilson also challenged some of the circumstances that led to Neely's tragic death. She was killed while at a party with reportedly over 60 teenagers present. Where were the parents in all of this? Wilson asked. Now teenagers can be pretty sneaky about setting up and going to parties like this, I know from my own experience. But somebody let this party happen, and when you get sixty teenagers together for a house party, that really is just asking for trouble. Kudos to Wilson for calling that out.
I'm also going to give credit to Rev. McAfee for taking a stand at the funeral, where he pointed out that someone had left a note at Neely's makeshift memorial calling her "my bitch." Sadly, something almost identical happened at the makeshift memorial for Marvin Ray Maynard III. One person wrote a note saying, "We missn you lil bro (illegible) in a better place (illegible) n***** f*** the world I luv you my n*****." McAfee went on to say, "The more you define yourselves as 'that bitch, that ho,' you develop that psyche,"
At both of these memorial sites, a bottles of gin were left as well. Our CHILDREN are DYING and we think it's okay to memorialize them with bottles of hard liquor? Does anyone else see something inherently WRONG with that?
(The one possible exception is if there are cultural parallels to Native Americans and tobacco or Santeria practitioners and rum, wherein those items hold a spiritual place similar to Christians' bread and wine. But this really just seems like ignorance.)
One of the other speakers was Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Peter Idusogie. I'm still not convinced he's got what it takes to be governor, but once again, he was well-spoken. We as a community are grateful when politicians like Mr. Idusogie not only come and speak TO us, but walk WITH us.
The march started across the street from Cub as we went down Broadway to Penn, then up to 26th and over to Lyndale. I eyeballed at least 200 people who came out to stand with the community.
For most of the march, I was in the middle of the biker crowd.
And what surprised me, when I was talking with at least the folks immediately surrounding me, was how much they give back in volunteering. These people are dedicated to reaching out to the homeless, working at battered women's shelters, and visiting those in nursing homes. That service to our community should not go unnoticed.
Also, a special thanks goes out to Metrotransit. They lent us a bus at the end of the route to take us back to the Cub Foods parking lot.
I saw quite a few people with whom I have strong political differences, but it was clear that we were all marching because we care about our community and the death of Alisha Neely struck a chord. In that spirit, I went up to Al Flowers, shook his hand, and said, "Al, I know we've had our differences, but I want to thank you for being out here today."
Just before we arrived at New Salem, I had an excellent conversation with a gentleman who said that the churches needed to start taking back the streets. We talked about how that might happen while minimizing the danger to church members. I mentioned that the discussion was bringing to mind one of my favorite Biblical passages from the book of James, about how having the love of God means we have to ACT. He showed me a tiny briefcase-like cache he was carrying and pulled out a Bible, immediately turning to James 2:14. "What good is it my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well. Keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? ... But someone will say, 'You have faith. I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do."
Unbeknownst to many, if not all of us, while we were marching for peace, someone had tried to enter Alisha's funeral with a gun. He was apprehended. GBT4P. If that weren't enough, a fight broke out at the funeral after the marchers had gathered around New Salem Church. I happened to be on the steps of the church just as the fight started. I tried to get video, but was bumped and my camera was turned off. I quickly decided to put my camera away and get ready to either jump into the fray or get away quickly if needed.
There's no shortage of criticisms towards Al Flowers on this blog, but let me say this much: He was on his game today. Flowers took the bullhorn from KG Wilson and started repeating, "This is a baby's funeral!" and "The police have to be here so she can rest in peace!" Flowers can be a commanding presence, and on that day, he used that skill to harness a chaotic crowd. Well done.
I was still on the steps of the church when the pallbearers carried the white with gold trim coffin that held Alisha Neely's body past, and brought it to the hearse. Pleas were made that no violence erupt at the burial, so that she could rest in peace. I wanted to get a picture of the pallbearers and the casket as it went past me, but the air was just so full of emotion that I couldn't do it. The act of taking a photograph almost seemed intrusive to me.
But it wasn't until the next day that the full scope of what just happened hit me. I worship at River of Life Lutheran Church on Fremont and 22nd. It's a mixed-culture congregation of (mainly older) Scandinavians and (mainly younger) Liberians. One of the Liberian families brought forward three children to be baptized, and this happened the day after Alisha Neely's funeral. And I thought, "What if this baptism were interrupted by such violence? What if just as we were affirming that these children belong to God - an affirmation surely made by Rev. McAfee at Neely's service - someone brought a gun into my church with the intention of using it? What do we have to do to make sure that these three children, and that NO OTHER CHILD IN OUR COMMUNITY, dies like Alisha tragically did?
This violence is a bomb that threatens to tear apart our community. Such violence CANNOT be tolerated. That such violence is happening among our youth is even more horrendous. And that one of our YOUTH thought it would be justifiable to bring a gun to a Holy Place with the intent to use it at "a baby's funeral" is simply outrageous.
So what purpose did this march serve? This wasn't the first and I hate to say it, but may not be the last such march. Well, it goes back to the other question asked at the beginning of this post. What do you do when the bomb drops?
You go to those that are hurting, and you pick up the pieces. That's what we did on Saturday, and that's what we'll keep on doing for our community until we get it right.