The National Council for Urban Peace and Justice has been conducting a continuing series of open forums throughout the city of Pittsburgh in an effort to discuss and plan strategies to advance the Campaign for Drug De-Criminalization & Amnesty, as well as other crucial programs addressing the problems plaguing the African-American Community. Recently a small group gathered at the Kingsley Association in the East Liberty community.
The NCUPJ was formed in 1993 as the result of the first national ‘gang peace’ summit which was held in Kansas City, Mo. The ‘Gang Peace Council of Western Pennsylvania,’ developed through a local Muslim group called ‘Community Mosque, Inc.,’ was formed as an outreach and violence prevention/intervention organization.
Under the current leadership of local advocate Khalid Raheem, the concerns of violence within the African-American community are a major focal point of this union. Facilitating the open discussions in efforts to pinpoint a viable direction on the issues at hand through community involvement, the dedicated determination of Raheem is evident as he explains his views in a calm, yet passionate manner.
“We want to decriminalize all drugs, particularly those that we believe are at the center of so much violence in our neighborhoods and communities. This will perhaps make it easier for those seeking treatment to access it without continued fear of stigmatization or censure.”
Extremely sensitive to the fact that Black males dominate the prison culture throughout the region of Allegheny County, and the country, the organization is examining a comprehensive amnesty program for persons convicted of certain drug-related offenses.
“We think the development of a comprehensive Amnesty Program is an integral component of any serious effort to stabilize and further develop the African-American neighborhoods and communities impacted by the decades of substance abuse and massive incarceration.”
The group takes the time to examine the pros and cons of their own beliefs, as well as the input of others, remaining sensitive to the fact that “people convicted of certain drug offenses and those ready to ‘walk away’ from the life of gangs and/or drugs should be given to the opportunity to do so.”
The priority of the group meetings is not only the decriminalization of drugs, but opens discussions that assist in determining the connection between drugs and community violence. Surmising that “50 percent of homicides, aggravated assaults and other crimes impacting our communities are drug related,” the conscientious advocate goes on to say that “the recent killing of a Penn Hills police officer and civilian are prime examples because the alleged perpetrator has been linked to the illegal distribution, sale and consumption of drugs.”
Determined to reach the core of the problem, NCUPJ exchanges ideas that deal with “racism, Black inferiority, educational systems, structural inequalities, and massive incarceration,” which has taken a toll on the Black community at large.
While some attended the forum in efforts to obtain information regarding the concerns and struggles of the NCUPJ, both advocates and those interested in positive change within their environment, were in attendance to support, advise and seek answers to the problems that have infiltrated their community, believing that continuing communications will encompass the involvement of the people who live, work and govern the community.
These committed individuals, who include community organizers and representatives, neighborhood organizations, attorneys, and concerned citizens, contemplate the solutions to problems plaguing the African-American community. Future discussions will include the intensity of the crucial role and responsibility of parents, educators, public officials and business leaders. NCUPJ is extending an invitation and community participation to attend future forums in efforts to begin the process to “stabilize, heal and empower families and neighborhoods.”