Occupy DC organizers along with the moderator and panelists at the “Occupy DC Political and Cultural Panel: On Racism, Police Brutality & Violence in D.C. Communities” at Busboys and Poets Brookland on Sept. 20. (Photo By Etolia Magdalena)

By Etolia Magdalena
Special to the AFRO

Occupy DC hosted a panel on racism, police brutality and violence within the District of Columbia featuring freedom-fighting Washingtonians, including: Ward 4 City Council Candidate Janeese Lewis George; Nee Nee Taylor of Black Lives Matter DC.; At-large Committeewoman for D.C. Democratic State Committee Chioma Iwuoha; Long Live GoGo’s Justin “Yaddiya” Johnson; Migration Matters UDC Founder Joella Roberts; singer and cultural curator Ace Ono and At-Large City Council Candidate Markus Batchelor.  Live from Busboys and Poets Brookland on Sept. 20 and moderated by AFRO D.C. Editor Micha Green, the panel discussed steps D.C. communities and leaders can take to put an end to racism, police brutality and violence and emphasized the importance of voting for change.

An issue that has been at the forefront of D.C.’s challenges is gun violence and how leaders can take a public health approach to ending it, as well as how those in office can better control it within society.

“When we talk about a public health approach to gun violence it means getting to the root causes and focusing in on prevention,” George said. “If we had the same energy trying to solve COVID in our communities with trying to solve gun violence, we could be further than we are.” 

Panelists all agreed gun violence stems from issues in wealth, education and healthcare, as they all tie together to create bigger challenges. “If you want to talk about ending cycles of poverty we have to start with education and investing in communities,” George explained. “Investing in education… we know you’re not investing in education because our public schools, specifically east of the river and on the northwest side are closing every day.” 

In terms of taking a public health approach to gun violence, the answer is simple. “Public health approach means acknowledging the racism that this country has been built on, it means atoning for the racism and giving us the reparations and the repair that we deserve as a community,” the candidate, who is projected to assume the Ward 4 City Council seat, said.

Iwuoha, opened up about being present at a mass shooting this summer, that resulted in several injuries and the death of 17-year-old Christopher Brown. “The police do not keep us safe, they are not the solution to gun violence in our city,” Iwuoha said. 

The D.C. Democratic State Committeewoman, who is also a progressive candidate for D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission emphasized a need for communities looking out for one another.

“We are in the middle of a public health crisis right now, people have been stripped away from their social circles a lot of people are suffering. It’s not only an economic crisis, it’s a mental health crisis going on, a lot of people are on the edge,”  Iwuoha, who has worked as a community organizers for years explained. “We have to show up for our community.”

The community organizer said in order to see change happen within D.C.’s Black communities, people have to show up for one another, whether that be protesting, donating, signing petitions or voting. 

Johnson, who produced Moechella and the Million Moe March, said he believes music has a huge impact on influence and politics in terms of swaying the public.  “Politics is nothing but a game of influence,” he said.  “I say artists are the real politicians because I feel as though artists are the only people powerful enough to really fight against any system.” 

The panelists emphasized that true change takes the community coming together and questioning the forces that are in the position of power as well as emboldening the local leaders already doing the work.

“What it looks like is when Deon Kay was murdered by the Police Department, the next day you had people calling into question Black Lives Matter and what they’re doing in our community instead of calling into question the fact that the community that he lives in doesn’t have a community center, not calling into the fact that you were so ready to get up in arms between your people instead of fight the system that creates this,” George said.

“When we talk about investing in our communities we need to talk about ending this cycle of capitalism that allows this to happen in our community,” George continued.