Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Message to the Black Community


Yesterday, before leaving work, someone in the office mentioned that there had been a number of shootings during the day in the city of New Orleans. My immediate response was the same as it always is. First, there was the standard degree of shock. And that was followed by my usual statement: “Man, New Orleans is really a tale of two cities. What’s wrong with that town?” And then I went about my day, putting all of that news out of mind, until this morning, when I read about the attacks that left dead, amid the carnage, a 5-year-old child.

I do not have any children, and I do not know any of the victims from these incidents. But, after having time to fully consider what has happened, I am truly incensed by what I am seeing. More aptly, what I am not seeing. Where is the public outrage? Where are the so-called leaders demanding justice? Why is this not a seminal moment akin to the one that followed the death of Trayvon Martin?

For all of the outrage that came in the wake of Trayvon Martin's death, when none of us had all of the facts, it seems strangely ironic that killings like these do not rise to the same occasion. Indeed, unlike the Martin killing, there is video footage of yesterday’s Simon Bolivar Street attack, and there are plenty of witnesses who saw everything and very likely who know all or most of the parties involved. Nonetheless, few people across the country will say anything about the loss of this innocent 5-year-old's life or, for that matter, anything about the other people injured or killed. There will likely be no marches in the streets of New Orleans, no national news cover for weeks at a time, no plans for t-shirt sales, no viral Facebook or Twitter posts, no full-blown demand for justice—none of that. It will be just another day in "Killa Orleans" and just more lost lives that get buried in mounds of statistical data. Well, when is enough finally going to be enough? How many more people, how many more babies, are going to have to be slaughtered before we decide to do something about it?

People, we need to focus. The paramount threat to the African-American community in the 21st century is not the racism from outside communities but the super-predator subculture that is thriving and devouring them from within. To be sure, vestiges of racial injustice still exist, and no one is denying that fact. But those challenges are nowhere near as prevalent today as they were in the decades past. Though some might be hesitant to admit it, the number of racially-motivated assaults pale in comparison to the number of black-on-black crimes nationwide. More to the point, these acts of violence, and particularly the one that took a child's life at a birthday party, are not being carried out by bigots whose only aim is to enflame a racial divide. Instead, they are being carried out by young men and women who value life so little that they are willing to take it in ways that leave the rest of society astounded.

This is true fight of our generation. Whereas our parents and grandparent struggled to overcome the specter of racism, we must act to stand up against the depravity and evil corrupting the core of our communities, leading some of our young people down the path of perpetual incarceration, and resulting in the loss of the lives of so many others. Even the casual observer cannot refute the fact that today’s super-predator subculture, long unchecked, has become the greatest enemy to the sustainability and prosperity of our fragile communities. As such violence continues, it will surely drive away sorely-needed investment and talented people, and that is a truism for every city, not just New Orleans.In fact, take a look what happened in Chicago last weekend.

The first reaction by most is to have the attitude that I expressed in the beginning. Many of us look on, and after the initial shock fades, we go on with our lives. Some will even simply agree among themselves that this is a time for prayer. But none of this is the right response; apathy achieves nothing, and faith without works is dead. Indeed, in order to successfully combat this epidemic, we must define this moment as one that requires substantive and clearly-planned action, wherein we raise up our voices just as loudly as we did decades ago, and just as collectively as was done for Trayvon Martin, and cry out with unwavering certainty "Enough!” We can tolerate this no more! We will accept this murderous behavior, this profound lack of sanity, this unconscionable chaos, no more! We...have had...enough!

Until and unless we realize that, through our silence, and with the blessings of our indifference, we are enabling these super-predators to continue their madness, we must accept the fact that all of this will continue. Until and unless we realize that, like our greatest generation, we too have the power and the right to effect change, we cannot expect change to simply occur on its own. We cannot only hope for better days, days when our children and our communities are safe from harm. We must take an active part in ushering those days into existence.

The outrage shown following the death of Trayvon Martin demonstrates that we have the sensibility, resources, and capability to muster a collective voice as strong and influential as any other, and produce tangible results. But that power means little if we are only willing to wield it in the face of perceived bigotry; it means nothing if we cannot exercise it to stand up against the problems within our own communities. In fact, what does this say about us, if we cower publicly, even though we know that the murder of an innocent child was just as heinous as that of the young Mister Martin? Are we saying, however inadvertently, that, while we won't stand for what we suspect as a racially unjust killing, we have no qualms if the same act is carried out by people who look like us? Of course, no one is articulating that aloud, but through our silence, through the absence of our public protest, we are saying just that.

It took me a bit of time to think about how I felt, and now I am writing all of this as my own gesture of frustration. As a black man, violence of this magnitude, particularly when perpetrated in our communities, really hits home. And as a person of means and talent, I know that I cannot sit back and do nothing. When we simply stand back and take no action, more people die at the hands of these super-predators, and the call for action grows even louder than before.  At some point, we have all got to hear it, and we should all recognize “the urgency of now”. After all, the outrage over these killings should be no less than the outrage over any other killing, for they are all equally troubling. But what is different here, and noticeably so, is that, with each fresh killing, parts of our communities die, as well. That has to stop, and I want to do my part to effect change, to offer some form of help. Now who among you is willing to join me?      

Gary C. Harrell                                        

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