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Civil Rights Icon: “Violence is a Disease”

In just days, Americans will flock to the nation’s capital to pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

And if one of the architects of the iconic “I Have a Dream Speech” has his way, it’ll also be a time to reflect on Rev. King’s legacy of love and peace, especially as violent crime plagues a number of communities of color. Jones also says it’s an opportunity to reflect on what he deemed reckless vigilantism through “stand your ground” laws.

JET met with Dr. Clarence B. Jones (pictured below), civil rights juggernaut and author, currently serving as a Diversity Scholar at the University of San Francisco. Jones, an attorney who heeded the call from King to join the movement, in turn introduced us to a man he says is carrying the keys to the slain reader’s dream of a nonviolent world. Check out our conversation with Dr. Jones and Dr. Joseph E. Marshall of San Francisco-based “Alive & Free,” then tell us what you think of their outlook and suggested solutions for saving our young people.

JET: Dr. Jones, when we last spoke for the magazine, you told me you were creating, in tandem with the University of San Francisco, a Center for Violence Prevention and Conflict Resolution. One of your partners in this process was Dr. Joseph E. Marshall of the Omega Boys Clubs here in the Bay. You spoke very highly of him. Why is he so key to your effort?

Dr. Jones: Of all the individuals and programs I have come across, he has offered what I believe Dr. King would wholeheartedly support, a system that treats violence as a disease and then seeks to cure it.  You must go beyond the color, beyond the racial rhetoric. This is a societal problem.

JET: Dr. Marshall, there are– as Dr. Jones alludes to– a number of programs out to end violence.  Why is yours different?

Dr. Marshall: There are programs that work to postpone the inevitable.  Yes, they may work with a guy in a gang and keep him from fighting or killing someone on a particular night, but they do nothing to change the mindset. About 2 percent of the people do 80 percent of the crime. The little homies are becoming infected with this virus, this disease.  People are literally addicted to the block. It’s an infected mindset that causes illogical actions.

JET: Dr. Jones, many people feel this is a racial issue and point to Black-on-Black crime…

Dr. Jones: Yes, they do, but this goes deeper than that. Take, for example, George Zimmerman. Here is a man walking around with a gun, practically looking for conflict. Violence is within him as much as it might be these gangbangers.  The key is to get people to see that is never the solution.

JET: How then do you address those with the mindset?

Dr. Marshall: The first hurdle is getting cooperation. The youth business is a turf business, but I always ask some of these other groups who object when I come to their city and they get so defensive, “If a boy was hit by a car and I said I was a doctor, would you ask where I was from?”  Violence is like a cancer.  It can go into remission when you employ conflict resolution, but you must remove the cells. I once tried to help a young guy who was selling drugs and in the streets.  He told me if he could only go to college, he would get himself together and stay off the block. I worked with him, I got him the money to go to school. Within months, he was arrested for selling on campus. He was right back where he started. I knew then that simply throwing services at people who haven’t changed their thinking is a waste.

JET: So what do they have to do to be in your program?

Dr. Marshall: I make rules. No guns, no alcohol. In my program, Alive and Free, that isn’t allowed. I basically ask them if they want to live. One-hundred percent of the time, the answer is yes. (laughs) After we establish that, and I point out that the guns and substances are a threat to their goal of staying alive, I teach them that material things are unimportant. There is nothing more sacred than human life. In all my experience, I’ve never lost anyone who started understanding that.  Now, they get called all kinds of names. People who are still in that lifestyle may accuse them of acting white for not banging, and the rap music out there, it’s 99 percent of the problem. It’s the biggest source of misinformation, and it plays a role. But if they can give that thinking up, they will make it.

Dr. Jones: Yes, I remember one of the things he told me about the most significant moments in Black history. The march was one of them. But then, there was 1980, and that is when crack cocaine came in and destroyed the Black family. It hit mom, and that was significant because when the mother in a household is destabilized, it kills the whole structure. I think it was worse than slavery.

JET: And it created a mindset, a subculture that allowed the drugs and guns into the communities….

Dr. Marshall: Yes, this is what we are fighting today.  I grew up in a poor neighborhood, but I couldn’t tell you the name of a kid I knew who ended up in a group home. We didn’t have much, but we weren’t surrounded by guns or drugs and none of us had a T-shirt with a fancy label or name on it. If we don’t stop this mes, we will be a permanent underclass.  We’re kept around for entertainment and sports, but as a people, we won’t get further. We are now playing a role and colluding in our own oppression.

JET: It seems like we are aware of the problem. But nobody seems to have the answer to solve it.  How do you approach spreading this message and curing what you call a disease?

Dr. Marshall:  I recommend that people go to my site, stayaliveandfree.org and that is where I teach more about this disease.  Then, I go out and try to teach as many as I can.  I just can’t walk into these schools, but I was an assistant principal.  I go where I am welcome.  I have a radio show that streams where I also get the word out.  It’s streetsoldiers.org.

Dr. Jones: This is a great man. He truly knows how to go about this. Right now, we are stuck. But I am so glad that someone introduced us three years ago. This mutual person knew that we would be able to work together. What Dr. Marshall is doing in San Francisco is the template that we can implement real-time across the country. We are days away from the 50th Anniversary. In America, in 2013, Dr. Marshall is the one who has captured the essence of the prize.  Why? Because what Dr. King spoke about was about love. You’ve got to love the people you serve. This program is the 21st century extension, but people have to see it. They must be exposed to it.  We have come so far, but Dr. King would put his head in his hands and weep if he saw the way we are killing each other today. He would not understand it.

Want to learn more about the Center for Violence Prevention and Conflict Resolution?  Visit their page to learn about ways you can get involved and even donate if you’re interested.  Also, to bring Dr. Marshall to your city to diagnose and treat what he calls an epidemic of violence, visit him at Alive & Free.