The Peace Rides

“In the name of the 25,000 who have been murdered in Los Angeles,”[1] Minister Tony Muhammad began in prayer, speaking to an inter-faith and multi-ethnic gathering in Leimert Park in August 2014, “help us to stop the murdering that we are doing at our own hand. And let us come together in unity, having no doubt that we can stop the killing of us by us. Enough is enough. Amen.” Muhammad, who leads the Western Region of the Nation of Islam, founded the United in Peace Foundation in 2012 with the goal of bringing together faiths and ethnicities toward the immediate goal of creating a “cease-fire” to curb inner-city gang violence in Los Angeles, particularly among African Americans. The ultimate goal, however, is the creation of a nationwide movement to promote unity and peace among all ethnic and religious groups.

The Foundation holds an annual Unity and Peace Festival (“UPFest”) and additionally sponsors monthly Peace Walks and Peace Rides to promote unity in Los Angeles inner city neighborhoods.[2] “Minister Tony,” as he is known, targets neighborhoods that have recently experienced the trauma of a murder, and then advertises on the radio and in churches to solicit participants. Over a dozen rides have taken place across Los Angeles, Long Beach, Compton, Carson, and Inglewood since 2012.[3] The rides started with motorcycles and expanded to include low-riders, Corvettes, and mini-bikes. Prior to the Peace Rides, Muhammad did not ride, but quickly learned how to ride both sports bikes and Harley Davidson models. Though founded and largely staffed by members of the Nation of Islam, Muhammad has enlisted the assistance of members of other religious traditions, including Scientologists and Christians, particularly African American Baptists and Evangelicals. In many ways, the Peace Rides build on pre-existing relationships within these communities as Scientologists have collaborated with African American-affiliated churches and mosques for years, especially in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.

Since 2010, with the endorsement of leader Minister Louis Farrakhan,[4] some members of the Nation of Islam have become trained in L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics.[5] Minister Tony has himself benefited from tools discovered in the Church of Scientology, including The Way to Happiness, a booklet written by Hubbard as a “common-sense, non-religious guide to better living that inspires greater tolerance and understanding between families, friends and communities.”[6] As such, The Way to Happiness is part of the Church of Scientology’s humanitarian mission and one of its social betterment campaigns.[7] Peace Riders stop to distribute this booklet, along with an insert of the Million Man March pledge, in neighborhoods affected by gang violence with the hope that it will provide communities a moral and cultural compass to decrease crime. According to the Foundation, these distribution and awareness-raising efforts have led to significant drops in violent crime in these neighborhoods, as recognized by local civic leaders.[8] So much so, says Muhammad, that the Los Angeles Police Department, based on the 2013 success of the Peace Rides, invited the organization to continue its efforts in 2014.

Back in full swing, the Peace Rides are scheduled to continue on a monthly basis, and Minister Tony expects exponential growth. “Every month we’re going to ride,” he told the crowd of about 200 gathered at the end of the ride in late August 2014. “Next month, God-willing, we’re going to have a thousand bikers and 500 low-riders. And then the next month, we’re going to have 10,000 riding, and the next month we’re going to increase it until everybody is riding in LA for peace.” In a sign of unity familiar at the Peace Rides—and often repeated during the ride itself while stopped at intersections—he then instructed the attendees to raise their fists in solidarity, and then flash peace signs. Most of the riders, including Muhammad, are dressed in orange T-shirts, or wear orange bandanas, with their black leather riding jackets. Orange was selected for the cause, he explained, because it is a “color of peace.” He also explained that it symbolically signifies new beginnings and the end of old ways, just as the color of the sun is orange as it both rises and sets. (The selection of orange may also serve an unintended practical function, since it is not a traditional gang color and can be safely and neutrally worn by the riders in the neighborhoods.)

This dual mission of ending crime and beginning a peaceful, and collaborative future is echoed by Muhammad’s closest collaborators: Pastor Claude Powe and the Reverend Alfreddie Johnson, both Christians. “I want you to know I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my brother in any effort that he has to bring peace to our neighborhoods,” Powe told the audience after the August 2014 ride. “I don’t know about you, but I would love to get out and take a walk in the middle of the night and not have to have any fear. I would like to walk down my streets in the middle of the day and not have to have any fear.”

In addition to curbing gang violence, the Foundation works to raise awareness in the community about homicides and violence profiling African-Americans, such as the controversial deaths of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and Michael Brown in 2014. This reflects the organization’s national and civic-mindedness, and it has actively worked with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and in particular with the LAPD to maintain good relations in inner city contexts. “We will unite the crescent and the cross,” Muhammad said, speaking after Powe, “because all of us want peace today. We want our mothers to stop crying. We want our little babies to see and have a father when they grow up… We’re going to ask those forces that criminalize us as a color to re-think your position.”

Looking to the future, one would predict the Peace Rides to gain even more diverse interfaith and ethnic support as it plans to expand across the country. However, at least on a personal level, Minister Tony has a clear vision for ending gang violence based on his identity as a Muslim and senior leader within the Nation of Islam:  

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said there can’t be justice without truth, and there can’t be truth if racism is trying to hide the facts, so we’re going to have to continue to keep riding. And when those that are called “Bloods” and “Crips” unite, it’s over. For the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said when the black man in LA unites, the black man in Chicago will unite, the black man in Philadelphia will unite, the black man in D.C. will unite, and even our brothers and sisters in the South. Welcome to United in Peace.[9]

 


[1] This refers to the number of homicides, including gang-related, committed in the Los Angeles area over the last three decades.

[2] “‘Peace Rides’ Inspire Unity and Hope in the Streets,” Celebrity Magazine, Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International, September 2014, pp. 22-23. 

[3] “What is United in Peace?” http://unitedinpeace.org/what-is-united-in-peace/. Accessed August 2014.

[4] See, for example, Charlene Muhammad, “Nation Adopts New Technology to Serve Black Nation, World,” The Final Call, http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/National_News_2/article_7697.shtml, April 4, 2011. Accessed August 2014.

[5] According to its official website: “Dianetics is a methodology which can help alleviate unwanted sensations and emotions, irrational fears and psychosomatic illnesses (illnesses caused or aggravated by mental stress). It is most accurately described as what the soul is doing to the body through the mind.” http://www.dianetics.org/#/faq. Accessed August 2014.

[6]The Way to Happiness Booklet,” http://unitedinpeace.org/the-way-to-happiness/. Accessed August 2014.

[7] “Frequently Asked Questions,” The Way to Happiness Foundation International, http://www.thewaytohappiness.org/about-us/faq.html. Accessed August 2014.

[8] “Proclamations and Commendations,” United in Peace Foundation, http://unitedinpeace.org/recognitions/. Accessed August 2014.

[9] Minister Tony Muhammad, Address to Peace Rides Audience, Leimert Park, Los Angeles. August 24, 2014.