Sunday, October 4, 2009

How Can We Save the Children?

Last week, I read a disturbing article by Jozen Cummings about Derrion Albert’s brutal murder in Chicago. According to reports, Derrion was not a gangster or a drug dealer. He was an honor student. Someone struck Derrion Albert in the head with a 2 by 4 wooden plank and other people stomped and beat him to death. The article compared his violent death to the beating of Rodney King, the lynching of Emmett Till and the hosing of civil rights protesters. Derrion was not beaten to death by police, neo-Nazis or KKK members. Four African American teenage boys murdered him. The incident was captured on video.

Derrion Albert’s death is another recent example of the senseless violence that plagues our communities. Chicago is no different from other inner cities. According to CQ Press, the cities with the highest crime rates are New Orleans, LA, Camden, NJ, Detroit, MI, St. Louis, Oakland, CA, Flint, MI, Gary, IN, Birmingham, AL, Richmond, CA, North Charleston, SC, Cleveland, OH, Baltimore, MD, Miami Gardens, FL, Memphis, TN, Youngstown, OH, Atlanta, GA, Compton, CA, Orlando, FL, Little Rock, AR, Minneapolis, MN, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Jackson, MS, Newark, NJ and Milwaukee, WI. Most of those cities have large African American populations and relatively high homicide, poverty and unemployment rates.

Some young African Americans are waging a fratricidal war against their own community. One cannot watch the news without hearing about another young black homicide victim. There is no end in sight to this violence. According to the U.S. Census and the FBI, although African Americans constitute only 12.8 percent of the U.S. population, approximately 48 percent of all murder victims are African American. Over 90 percent of them are killed by other African Americans.

We have become completely desensitized to this kind of violence. We expect and accept it as a fact of life. Shortly after the incident, one of my Facebook friends posted a video of Central High School Principal and Newark City Council candidate Ras Baraka delivering a passionate speech regarding another violent incident, a shooting in Newark, New Jersey that occurred near the school. Addressing the predominately African American group of students in the auditorium, Baraka asserted that their plight was not normal. Instead of changing the situation, the students have adapted to their environment.

As Baraka stated, in many inner city neighborhoods, you will see murals, graffiti, and t-shirts honoring young African American homicide victims. Many wear this harsh ghetto reality as a hideous badge of honor. They proudly use words like “hard” and “gangster” to describe themselves and their neighborhoods. Popular hip hop music celebrates violence and eulogizes the deceased. As rapper Talib Kweli says in his song Africa Dream, they “drink champagne and toast death and pain like slaves on a ship talking about who got the flyest chain.”

If Derrion was murdered by the police or by a group of racists, the civil rights community and black politicians would be have been enraged. Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would have been on every television station in America condemning this brutal murder. They would have organized mass demonstrations. would have launched another online petition drive and thousands of people would have signed the petition. Although it is commendable that civil rights leaders issued statements and attended the funeral, that is insufficient. Where is the sense of urgency? What is their long term plan of action?

This violence is a symptom of the underlying problems of concentrated generational poverty, unemployment and inferior schools. Instead of spending billions of dollars waging a so-called war on terror in Iraq, America must wage a war on poverty. Rather than spending billions of dollars bailing out avaricious Wall Street companies, the Obama Administration should devote similar resources to ending poverty. According to news reports, Attorney General Eric Holder will make a statement regarding this incident. Hopefully, Attorney General Holder will unveil a bold strategy to confront this crisis.

In addition to governmental involvement, the African American community, the parents, the churches and the mosques must bear responsibility as well. We cannot simply sit on our hands waiting for the government to save us from ourselves. We must support mentoring programs and anti-gang initiatives.