In a city racked by the paroxysms of violence, an activist in Chicago is turning to the Nation of Islam to help create a peace summit between warring gang factions.
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Tio Hardiman, director of CeaseFire Illinois, told NewsOne that he is in early talks with representatives for Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan to hold a summit at Mosque Maryam, Farrakhan’s national headquarters in the city’s South Shore community, before Labor Day.
The goal is to help stanch the gang violence that has caused the city’s homicide rate to soar 38 percent in the first six months of the year. So far, the city has seen 308 homicides through the end of July, compared to 243 in 2011, according to CBS Chicago. Eighty percent of those deaths have been attributed to gangs and Black-on-Black crime, said Hardiman, whose group was recently awarded a $1-million contract to help mediate conflicts in crime-plagued communities.
“African American youth are crying out for help in the form of violence,” Hardiman told NewsOne. “They don’t know how to settle disputes. The average coward can shoot an unarmed person. Cowards who catch someone off guard are doing most of the killing. They just shoot someone in the head and keep going. They don’t care who gets caught in the crossfire. We have to change that mind-set.”
Watch a video on the dire gun violence problem in Chicago:
Farrakhan’s office did not return phone calls by press time, but Mosque Marymam, with its airtight security, is the ideal place to hold the summit when bringing together active gang members, Hardiman said.
“When you bring these warring factions together, you want to make sure there is no margin of error,” Hardiman said. “No one is trying to get anyone to join the Nation of Islam. We just want to educate them to stop the killing. There is no better place to do this than Mosque Maryam.”
Farrakhan has been on a mission to tackle the violence himself. On July 6, he famously proclaimed on WVON 1690 AM in Chicago during an interview with Cliff Kelly that “I’m going to lead the Nation in to the streets” across the nation:
When the Nation of Islam was strong, we were in the streets and when we were in the streets, the violence—we had it—but it was not like it is today, so Brother Farrakhan is going to lead the Fruit of Islam in to the streets. We are going to help our people. We have to take our teaching and our example to our people.
It is a tremendous tragedy and a scourge on our community that after we have suffered so much from so many, for so long, that we would become the worst enemies of self. This is grievous. We are filled with self-hatred and I have to say to us as parents, we took our eyes off the prize, he added.
Since then, Farrakhan has walked the streets of Chicago on July 16 and July 23 in the Auburn-Gresham, Englewood, and South Shore neighborhoods — all communities that have experienced spasms of violence. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city’s first Jewish mayor, has welcomed Farrakhan’s support despite his history of making anti-Semitic remarks.
Watch Farrakhan talk about youth violence here:
So far, the community has been responsive to Farrakhan. The Chicago Sun-Times reports:
The army of men, known as the Fruit of Islam, was responding to a call put out by Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan after last month’s tragic killing of 7-year-old Heaven Sutton on the West Side. Her murder is part of the unrelenting bloodshed plaguing Chicago this year, causing the murder rate to spike.
It has forced Farrakhan out of the luxury of the Nation’s palatial headquarters in Chicago and on to the street, leading 500 Fruit of Islam members to the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood to help combat the violence.
The 80-year-old leader walked with his followers, taking the lead in confronting an evil that is frustrating law enforcement, civil rights activists, clergy, and residents.
Traditionally in the Nation of Islam, Monday is set aside for male training classes, but Farrakhan reportedly ordered those classes canceled across the country and has sent the men in to the street.
“It was historic. I had residents crying — men and women that have been in the community fighting — crying to see it,” said Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th). “The minister had 500 well-dressed, well-spoken Black men in suits go out on the street. They weren’t all with the minister. They spread out. We gave them some of our hardest locations in the 6th district.”
Farrakhan is regularly condemned in mainstream media for comments about Jews. For that reason, he rarely speaks to the press.
Last year, he was widely criticized for his support of Libya’s long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was being pursued and was later killed by Libyan forces.
So it is not surprising that Farrakhan declined to discuss details of the street campaign.
Instead, he issued a short statement through a spokesman:
I do not want to talk at this time because we have done too much talking already and not enough action.
So we are focusing our attention on action and we want to let our results, God willing, speak for us,” the statement said.
For his part, Hardiman said that he is happy to receive help from anyone willing to make a difference in solving the city’s crime problem, saying the city needs healing. Hardiman held a prayer vigil on Wednesday at a park on Chicago’s West Side in memory of victims felled by gunfire. About 100 people, who sent up prayers for victims of homicides, attended the event.
“We have to bring attention to the violence in Chicago,” he said. “When the Colorado massacre took place, it rocked the nation for one day, but homicides in Chicago rock families every day. There seems to be no end to the madness. We can’t just sit back and hope that it gets better. We have to act until it gets better.”