Young Activist Draws Attention To Violence In Cleveland
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
While I was in Cleveland, along with producer Liz Baker, we really wanted to get a sense of what people in the city are thinking about outside of politics. So we caught up with Naudia Loftis. She's a young activist in the Kinsmen neighborhood. As we sat on her porch, she told us how she's trying to raise awareness about the issue of black-on-black violence.
Naudia you came to our attention in part because you organized a rally about black-on-black violence. Have - I don't know if you've done subsequent ones since then, but how many have there been so far?
NAUDIA LOFTIS: I've had two marches.
MARTIN: Two marches. Yeah. What gave you the idea to do that?
LOFTIS: The first march was because there were a lot of - it was the end of the summer. We were up to about 90 homicides in Cleveland at the beginning of September. And...
MARTIN: What year was that? Like...
MARTIN: There were 90 homicides in 2015?
LOFTIS: No. There were 132. But by the beginning of September, there were 90. And I knew like - I heard about a 5 year old. His name was Ramon Burnett. He was shot the first week of September, Labor Day weekend. There was a girl shot on the other side of town at a stoplight because of a boy that she was with.
It was a whole bunch of murders happening, and it was also the month that my cousin Reggie was killed. He was killed a couple of streets down by a friend that he grew up with. And I was in the sixth grade when it happened. And I just remember the whole - like, my dad come to the school and told me and my sister while we were in school when it happened. And every year for his birthday, we do a balloon release, and I was thinking like, you know, I got to do something bigger than a balloon release to get people's attention. And that's when I started thinking about a rally just to get people together because maybe - like, I don't have the answer, but maybe we can get an answer.
MARTIN: What do you - what are you hoping to accomplish with these rallies and with these demonstrations about violence? Do you call it about black-on-black violence or what do you call it? How do you describe it?
LOFTIS: Mine was - yeah. The first one was about black-on-black violence because I feel like there's so much violence happening between our communities because of petty stuff. Somebody's mad because they lost a fight, and they go shoot somebody - you know, stuff like that. So that's why I was like I needed to be - people to be educated about what's actually going on.
MARTIN: Why do you feel like the violence that you're so concerned about continues? Do you have any thoughts about that?
LOFTIS: Well, I know that kids get bored. I know that kids around here get bored. If you're bored with school, you're going to stop going to school. You're going to stand on a street. Around the corner gas station - 6, 7, 8-year-old boy stand out there just talking to people - no - not in school or anything, just standing there asking people for money, you know - asking them go buy me a (unintelligible), you know - something like that just sort of like not paying any attention.
And then they grow into these older boys who end up, you know, running the streets, being drug dealers, whichever - you know, whichever one and then it's like, OK, I got a beef with this person. They get bored so they like, OK, I don't like him because he lives around the corner. I feel like kids get bored, and it's just like what can you really do? You know, there's no rec around. Then in school...
MARTIN: There's no rec around here. There's not a lot of work around here.
LOFTIS: There's really not unless you put yourself out there to do it. Like my grandfather - when he stayed here, he had - he slowed down after he - he got cancer in 2010, so he slowed down his work. But before - again, all the boys on this street - on my street used to have so many people on it - but they, like, all moved away. But all the boys on the street - he had his own weightlifting club with these boys. He'd make them go around carry people groceries to their houses for them - just to do it, though. And that kept them busy, and that kept them off the streets.
Once that stopped, though - like once all of that stopped, some of them boys are in jail right now. Some of them are running the streets. Some of them I don't even know where they at. I don't even know if any of them are dead to be honest. But I'm the last like - my family right now, we're the last original people on this street left here. But it's like - what do you do when you not getting that push, you not being motivated in school, you getting bored and there's nowhere for you to go? And in the world there's just - you've just got a target on your back from the world. Like what do you do?
MARTIN: Are you ever scared?
LOFTIS: Sometimes. I mean, yeah. Like, my older brother doesn't like to come outside. He does not. He's not outside. He does not have friends around here. He - like, he does not deal with that stuff and neither does my little brother. So it's just like...
MARTIN: That's a kind of isolating way to live, though. Everybody can't live like that.
LOFTIS: I know everybody can't. Like my mom tells them that. Like, you know, you can't hide. She doesn't try to shut us off from anything. She lets us know everything. Like literally that house - gray house over there - her friend was murdered literally right there at night. And she was watching out this window watching him be murdered. And that happened last November. And it's just like she can't shoot - you can't shoot anybody from...
MARTIN: You mean right there?
LOFTIS: That gray house right there - the two-family? Yes.
LOFTIS: He was shot right there in his yard, and she looking out the window when it happened that night like 3 o'clock in the morning.
MARTIN: Why? Do you know why? Like why? Who shot him?
LOFTIS: Oh, they were trying to rob him, and they shot him.
MARTIN: They were trying to rob him.
LOFTIS: Yeah. But like - you wouldn't notice like we couldn't not see it because riding past the next morning, his blood was still right there when I was on my way - when she was driving us to school. And she just kept shaking her head. Just because - it was there for a while. Nobody moved it. Then we came home, and the mom was spraying it up because nobody else touched the blood.
MARTIN: Do you feel that - let me ask you this - do you feel that the people that you see on TV, the people who are involved in politics and whatever, do you think they care about what goes on here?
LOFTIS: I don't think they know what goes on.
MARTIN: You don't think they know.
LOFTIS: I mean, I think like if you actually bring somebody here to see what's going on, they'll be supplied. A lot of politicians won't even know what's actually going on. They're just speaking out - oh, the statistics - the numbers say this. Well, are you actually going there and going to see this for yourself? Are you going into the store and seeing a 7-year-old boy asking you for a dollar because he don't got nothing to eat or because he's saying he doesn't have anything - you know, like, are you witnessing this?
MARTIN: What would make it better? What do you think would make things better? You know, this is a presidential election year and basically that's really what the whole conversation is really about which...
MARTIN: ...Is what would make the country better?
LOFTIS: I think actually educating people on what's going on. Half - most people don't even know that the RNC is coming, for one - around here because who is telling them? And for two - if they do know, they don't really know what it means because they're just like, oh, OK. It's just about to be a whole bunch of people coming down or they're like what is they redoing downtown for? That's why I'm like, you don't know? Like if this is happening in your city, you should know what's going on.
MARTIN: That was Naudia Loftis. She's a rising college student and an activist in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.