Through my job with the Gambit, I've been able to talk with a number of interesting people and ask them questions that most polite people wouldn't ask or wouldn't have the opportunity to ask. I'm lucky, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to spend some time with Reverend John Raphael, the spokesman for the anti-violence movement Yes We Care.
When I first learned of Raphael ex-cop who is now a Baptist minister fighting for his community he sounded almost like a stock character out of a detective novel. But as I spoke with him, and he graciously gave me a lot of his time, I realized part of Raphael's appeal to his community is his ability to boil down a complicated problem like the continuing violence in African American neighborhoods and answer it with three simple words: Yes We Care. It's not that Raphael doesn't recognize or is unaware of the numerous factors contributing to this crisis, but he knows the crisis has to first be approached with genuine concern, or, as he would likely put it: Love Thy Neighbor.
Here's how Baty Landis, the founder of Silence is Violence, describes Raphael's method.
"I think it's very courageous of Pastor Raphael because he's not someone in my experience who is inclined to essentialize, reduce or categorize a very complex situation. But in this case, he decided to say the core of the crisis is black-on-black violence and the solution needs to come from within our community and there needs to be an outcry from African Americans about African-American perpetuated social and communal patterns of behavior."
If there's one certainty when you're writing a profile, it's that there will be plenty of material you won't be able to use because of time and space. So in the interest of not wasting Pastor Raphael's time and in sharing some more of his story, after the jump, here's some more of my interview with John Raphael.
Is the level of crime and violence different than when you were a cop?
I could probably never survive as a police men today. I remember walking up to a kid and taking a sawed-off shotgun out of his hands. You wouldnt survive trying to do that today.
How do you end up at so many murder scenes?
Many years ago, it started in this community. If someone got hurt in this community and my car was out here, [someone] was going to come to this church to tell me somebody got shot. And I truly believe (they did this) because they believed I cared. Now, everybody has my cell phone, every news station.
You say you've been frustrated with the local media. How so?
Theres been times when a reporter wanted to do, or that station or whatever wanted to do something to show the ineffectiveness of the police chief or the weaknesses of the mayor or something, but theyre approaching me as if theyre concerned about this problem in this community. And theyll do this thing showing how the police or mayor isnt do what theyre supposed to be doing, and then theyll take three words from me and try to balance it.
How effective has NOPD been in solving murder cases?
I think its impossible for us to honestly evaluate the police department under the circumstances. We cant know. They dont have the tools to do the job, and Im not just talking about the equipment thats needed, or the additional training. The main thing we need is the cooperation of the community, which they dont have.
What role has race played in the violence?
When you talk about racism in this city, we are tremendously deceived if we think its black and white. Its about greed and whatever color power is. Thats what its really about, and its something that has always been behind racism. There are certain people who need division.