Topics: Rethinking Crime & Punishment, Community-Based Public Safety, Juneteenth
It’s been another week of protests in cities around the nation, hundreds of thousands of people marching, demanding change – demanding that we reform our nations’ policing practices. A deep reckoning is underway of the structural racism and institutional violence against black and brown Americans. Yes, Black Lives Matter. So do Brown and Native American ones. In this episode of Solutions News, we are jumping into a discussion on these themes – first with a look at our Criminal Justice System - an area just as flawed as our militarized police culture - then we bring you a fascinating interview that our producer Kristy Jansen did with spirit-centered activist, a leader in community-based safety and sentencing reform movements, Aqeela Sherrills. Aqeela has been on the front lines of restorative peace movements in urban America his entire life, and we believe you’ll find this interview informative and inspirational. Later on, we will end the show with a spotlight on Juneteenth - the celebration of the end of slavery in this country on June 19, 1865—yes, 2 full years after the Emancipation Proclamation when the last state, Texas, freed its slaves. (Produced by: Kristy Jansen)
Juneteenth Flag. Juneteenth commemorates the end of Slavery in the United States.
Aqeela Sherrills, who grew up in Watts, a community in Los Angeles, is a peace advocate, mediator, and spirit-centered activist and campaigner against gang violence. Aqeela grew up amongst gangs, finding his family on his side of town. He had a rough upbringing, finding himself stealing, robbing, and beating people. When a close friend was shot in the ninth grade, he decided to pull himself out of the chaos and started selling candy door-to-door, eventually making his way to college. Aqeela faced ups and downs in his college years, ultimately opening up to his current girlfriend and building his values of truth, vulnerability, and responsibility.
"In 1989 I marched with the African Brothers Collective onto neutral ground in Watts, and tried to reach out to our African brothers from the Bloods. Our message was that we all had the same problems, no matter which side of the tracks we were from. Finally, in 1992, community leaders signed a peace treaty and joy exploded across the neighborhood. Kids played in the park again and gang homicide dropped by 44%. Unfortunately things started to flip after a while, because people began to use the peace process to line their pockets. It made me realize that you have to view peace as a journey, not as a destination.
"For the past 30 years I’ve been working for peace. I’ve come to believe in the concept that where the wounds are, the gift lies. But in January 2004 this belief was seriously tested, when my 18-year-old son, Terrell, was murdered. He was an unbelievable kid, and after rushing to the hospital to be told that he hadn’t made it, I thought, “What is the gift in this?” Since then I’ve thought about a lot of things, in a lot of different ways."
While Aqeela could have fought back and sought revenge, he chose to communicate with his community on why revenge and violence is not the answer.
Aqeela has been part of many inspiring projects, including The Forgiveness Project, Just Beginnings Collaborative, The Reverence Project, Californians for Safety and Justice, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, the Social Transformation Project, and several others.
After helping start numerous programs related to restorative justice and community healing, including Californians for Safety and Justice, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, he moved to Newark, New Jersey where he helped start the influential Newark Community Street Team and promote community-based safety in collaboration with Mayor Ras Baraka, the Newark police, and other community activists.
Aqeela is also a father and a grandfather, who has spent his adult life working for restorative peace and community wellness. He understands from lived experience the insidious nature of growing up in a community plagued by violence, trauma, and a lack of opportunities, and how these factors combined with an unreasonably punitive justice system can destroy a person, a family, and a town for generations.
Aqeela Sherrills, our guest on June 19, 2020