by C.C. Campbell-Rock
The murder of a two-year-old boy sparked the Peace Keepers’ movement in New Orleans. The boy’s father killed him to avoid paying child support. That was last straw,” organizers say. It gave a group of local men the impetus to start a New Orleans branch of the all-volunteer, non-profit, anti-violence advocacy group.
“It is one of the fastest growing anti-gun violence initiatives in the country,” says student Min. Willie Muhammad, an eighth grader teacher and in-school suspension instructor who also is an organizer of the local Peace Keepers and a member of Nation of Islam, Mosque 46.
In 2009, an anti-gun violence meeting ended with boots on the ground. After gathering at the Tremé Community Center, 75 men walked around the community, meeting, greeting and talking with neighbors. Before it was over, 100 citizens agreed to join forces to do something about the senseless killings and assaults that became the new normal in many neighborhoods.
Since then, the Peace Keepers have continued to go out into the city’s “hot spots,” for an hour every Saturday.
One of benefits of the Saturday walks is “connecting residents to services, mediation, job referrals, anything we can do to let people know we care,” Min. Willie says.
Walter Umrani, who is the field coordinator for the local Peace Keepers, says the group’s success is measured by its ability to recruit volunteers to patrol their neighbors.
“Our goal is to bring divided communities together,” he says. “There are serious social, economic and communication gaps within the Black community between the younger generation –whether its dress, speech, lifestyle. This gap has created an environment where the younger generation is not accepted or respected. We don’t come in with badges, guns, intimidation or criticism. We come with love.”
Umrani says the young Black men he has met are intelligent, strong and courageous, but lack guidance. And he shares several heart-rending encounters, while sowing peace in the field. While speaking to one young man, “He put his contraband and gun away and came back and said, ‘I’m interested. I want to do better.’ After sending another on a job interview, the young man called and said, ‘I got the job. Man, I don’t understand why you helped me. You don’t even know me.’ It brought tears to my eyes,” Umrani says.
He was also surprised to find that most of the 17-22 year olds they meet don’t have driver’s licenses. Peace Keepers are helping with test-taking and driving them to the DMV to get driver’s licenses.
“When I was 15 getting your driver’s license was like a rite of passage and source of pride,” Umrani says.
The national Peace Keepers movement was founded by Captain Dennis Muhammad of Columbus, Ohio. Dennis Muhammad came to New Orleans to speak with the local group about security and prevention measures and the need for communities to take responsibility for being proactive against crime. A nationally recognized security expert, Capt. Muhammad’s private clientele includes Russell Simmons, several police departments and businesses concerned about security issues. Today the Peace Keepers have 60 chapters in 21 U.S. cities and London, England.
Although Capt. Dennis Muhammad is a member of the Nation of Islam, his security business and brainchild, the Peace Keepers, are separate and apart from the NOI.
The Peace Keepers chapters ask men in communities, to put aside differences and help protect children and families; whether through mediation, intervention, or service referrals.
“We’re not asking them to do no more than what is put on us by God…our God-given obligation to protect our families, children and communities in which we live. No one gets paid. Everyone does this work from their hearts,” he says.
Donations are accepted to defray costs associated with the work—telephone hotlines, flyers, etc.
Some may remember that Capt. Dennis had a sensitivity training contract with the NOPD in June 2005; shortly before the Hurricane Katrina disaster. However Police Chief Eddie Compass canceled the contract, after Edward Paul Cohn, Rabbi, Congregation Temple Sinai and founding Chairman of the City Human Relations Committee, used inflammatory rhetoric about the Nation of Islam to justify calling for the contract breach.
Two months later, the Danzinger Bridge killings occurred—standing perhaps as one of the worst examples of police brutality and insensitivity. Two unarmed innocent citizens were killed and four injured by NOPD members, as they sought higher ground in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The security expert said he believes now, more than ever that communities can’t rely on the police to stop gun violence. “Everybody needs to join the effort. When the police department show s up, the police are responsive, but the agency is reactive not proactive,” he says.
The local Peace Keepers are now planning to start doing car patrols.
“We want to patrol for two hours, especially where children are playing. We want people in these communities to feel safe. They can come up and talk to us about problems,” Umrani says The Peace Keepers have a message about the Beef Mediation Hotline on YouTube. And men who want to volunteer can call Bro. Umrani at call (504) 723-3976 or go to www.peacekeepers.org.