Antone White, a returning citizen and founder of Our City DC, often speaks to residents at the D.C. Jail. He doesn't plan to partake in July 4 celebrations this year. (Courtesy photo)
Antone White, a returning citizen and founder of Our City DC, often speaks to residents at the D.C. Jail. He doesn't plan to partake in July 4 celebrations this year. (Courtesy photo)

As people across the nation gear up to commemorate 248 years of American independence, Antone White said he, for another year, won’t partake in any celebrations this July 4, out of his belief that Black people need to shift their collective focus. 

“That day is a pagan celebration that comes with something negative,” said White, founder and executive director of Our City DC, a digital platform focused on fostering urban unity and tackling gun violence. “A lot of people who possess guns and lack discipline want to fire their pistols up in the air.” 

White, a returning citizen, joined two other returning citizens — Eric Hicks and ex-drug trafficker Ricky Donnell “Freeway Rick” Ross — at a virtual event on June 8 intended to unite organizers in not only tackling gun violence that has plagued the U.S. and other countries in the Western Hemisphere, but determining the source of that dysfunction. 

In the 1990s, Ross, and several other Black people, gained significant clarity about the “War on Drugs” when a series of articles by Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News revealed a connection between Ross’ Nicaraguan drug source, the CIA, and financial support of anti-government forces in the South American country. 

Decades later, as District youth continue to reel from gun violence and substance use, White said the event, themed “Drugs and Gun Violence All Over the Western Hemisphere,” set out to further implicate the federal government for its ongoing role in destabilizing Black communities. The event laid the foundation for direct engagement with violence prevention groups, the African American Mayors Association, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, and the Congressional Black Caucus.

“There’s no seriousness to figure out who’s behind the drug and gun trafficking,” White said in his criticism of D.C. council members and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), all of whom he demanded provide youth with more economic opportunities. “It goes back to [Reagan administration National Security Council Lieutenant Colonel] Oliver North. It had a drastic effect because communities don’t exist anymore.”  

Eric Hicks Pushes for a Holistic, and Global, Solution 

A in April found that a significant number of guns found at crime scenes in 2021 and 2022 came from gun sales facilitated by the Metropolitan Police Department, which once served as a federal firearm licensee. It got to the point where the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent letters to MPD in scrutiny of the connection and the short time window between gun sales and gun crimes. 

A month before the release of that investigative piece, the D.C. Council approved the Secure D.C. Omnibus Amendment Act in response to incidents of gun violence that gripped the District since the pandemic. Those who organized against the legislation demanded further investment in safety net programs. A 40-page advisory recently compiled by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy not only declared gun violence a public health emergency, but similarly gave a call to action for an increased focus on housing, high-quality education and healthcare, and employment and economic opportunities. 

The degree to which the D.C. government provides that for marginalized residents has been called into question. The D.C. Council recently wrapped up a budget season characterized by attempts to reverse across-the-board cuts proposed by Bowser. Despite some restoration of vital programs, housing advocates continue to bemoan the decimation of emergency rental assistance and impending loss of rapid rehousing that they said could exacerbate violence and instability throughout marginalized communities in the District. 

Eric Hicks, a returning citizen and paralegal, spends his July Fourth with his wife and in deep reflection about Frederick Douglass' "What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?" speech. (Courtesy photo)
Eric Hicks, a returning citizen and paralegal, spends his July Fourth with his wife and in deep reflection about Frederick Douglass’ “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech. (Courtesy photo)

With all of that, Hicks extolled the fiscal year 2025 budget for funding the District’s exploration of reparations for those whose ancestors suffered through chattel slavery and Jim Crow. He acknowledged the program as a crucial start to addressing the racialized trauma accumulated through the generations.

“The word reparations never came up [in conversations] and now we have mass hysteria,” said Hicks, a paralegal and 2023 graduate of the Georgetown University Prison and Justice Initiative. “There has to be some personal accountability for young people, but it’s kind of a spurious argument to ask them to take accountability when this country won’t take accountability for historic violence.” 

Hicks said he plans to spend his July 4 as he would any other — being with his wife and reflecting on Frederick Douglass’ “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech. 

For him, the 1852 speech addresses the hypocrisy of the U.S. government and Black people’s precarious relationship with Uncle Sam. As he reflected on the “Drugs and Gun Violence All Over the Western Hemisphere” event, Hicks expressed his desire to forge deeper connections with marginalized people in other parts of the world who face a similar problem. 

“There’s a connection between American imperialism and the treatment of African Americans historically in America,” Hicks told The Informer. “A lot of South American countries subscribe to notions of whiteness and it makes me feel for the Black Hispanic population.” 

“What affects them and us won’t be addressed until America has addressed what happened here,” Hicks continued. “People of color are catching hell everywhere and we have a historic opportunity to correct it, but it’s going to take a monumental effort to have people in those countries aligned with us in spirit and thought.” 

White and Hicks Continue Their Campaign Against the Judicial System

Antone White and Eric Hicks count among several who secured their early prison release via the First Step Act. To this day, they continue to fight what they call prosecutorial and judicial collusion against defendants. (Courtesy photo)
Antone White and Eric Hicks count among several who secured their early prison release via the First Step Act. To this day, they continue to fight what they call prosecutorial and judicial collusion against defendants. (Courtesy photo)

In the 1990s, Ross, currently an author and entrepreneur, became the subject of a drug sting coordinated by the same forces found to have provided him the drugs to sell. In 2009, he secured his prison release after an appeals court found that the life sentence imposed upon him more than a decade prior stemmed from the erroneous application of the three-strikes rule.

White and Hicks garnered a similar victory in 2022 under the First Step Act, which retroactively applied the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, legislation that reduced sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine and eliminated minimum sentencing requirements for possession of the former.

Throughout their 30-year incarceration, White and Hicks, much like Ross, petitioned for early release. They argued that the judge and prosecutor in their case violated their right to due process by imposing a life sentence reflective of charges that didn’t initially appear on their criminal indictment. 

White likened that tactic to star chambers — secret judicial proceedings that convened during the 17th century in England. On June 8, he reflected on that experience before an audience that included Laurant Sandino Montes, Nicaraguan diplomat to the U.S., and a bevy of Afrodescendent organizers from Colombia, Honduras and Mexico.

“The scope of our vision needs to be advanced — and not just locally,” White would later tell The Informer. “We share the same woes and struggles. If we can become one voice and have one vision to actually understand that for the last 40 years, we’ve been sentenced illegally, then we can come together as a people to strip down the federal sentencing guidelines that are unconstitutional,” he continued. 

“The Fifth Amendment tells us due process, which is trial by jury or one’s admission of guilt. No prosecutor or judge has jurisprudence to say that you’re guilty.”

Sam P.K. Collins has nearly 20 years of journalism experience, a significant portion of which he gained at The Washington Informer. On any given day, he can be found piecing together a story, conducting...

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3 Comments

  1. There is so much wrong with this article, I don’t even know where to begin. I see a couple of men who want to blame everyone else for their actions. All the way back to Oliver North? Deranged.

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