Dying Young and BlackPosted by Tshaka Barrows on March 3rd, 2009
One month before the fatal shooting of the young Black father Oscar Grant III by a White transit police officer in Oakland, Calif., Northeastern University researchers published a report about the rising murder rate among black teens.
The report found, among other things, that from 2002 to 2007, the number of homicides involving black male youth as victims rose by 31 percent, and when they were the perpetrators, by 43 percent. When looking specifically at gun killings, the numbers rose further: 54% for young black male victims and 47% for young black male perpetrators. By contrast, homicides among White youth increased only slightly, or decreased.
For many Americans, this level of violence is shocking and reinforces the instinct to isolate certain communities even more than they already are. However, for those of us living in those communities and who call the people impacted by this violence our family, friends and neighbors, such statistics reflect something we have been experiencing for some time.
Here in California, Vallejo also reported its first homicide victim
soon after the New Year – a 19-year-old shot dead in a parking lot. Another Vallejo teen was arrested in suspicion of turning the gun on his friend amid a vehicle burglary. A few days later in neighboring Richmond, California a teen boy was
killed in an accidental shooting allegedly by his 16-year-old friend. A few days subsequently in San Francisco, California, an 18-year-old from Oakland was found shot to death in the Hunters Point public housing project in the Bayview district.
A trifecta of tragedy in less than a week’s time.
“It is not that the FBI figures tell an inaccurate story about crime trends in America. Rather, they obscure the divergent tale of two communities — one prosperous and safe, the other poor and crime-ridden. The truth behind the fears and concerns of the nation’s underclasses about crime and violence lies deep beneath the surface of the FBI statistical report,” the Northeastern authors wrote.
In too many communities across this country, violence among black youth is viewed as almost inevitable. But this inevitability is not driven by an unfeeling and emotionally disconnected generation of young people, as some have purported in the media. Instead, this violence is driven by intentional policies of neglect and abuse by the political and economic elites.
Youth of color, in this instance Black youth, are delivered sagging public school systems, overall neglect of youth programming and a reliance on an incarceration system that incubates, cultivates and even administers violence.
Is there any doubt that violence results in communities forced into deprivation? The gun becomes the great equalizer, and anyone who feels vulnerable can obtain a gun, strap up and take on anyone of any size and strength. Today, you see kids not even yet of high school age who regularly carry a gun on them as they walk the streets. The murders that often result may begin as a simple disagreement, but quickly escalate into gunfire. This situation is not just bleak; it will continue to get worse unless enormous changes occur.
Our program, the Community Justice Network for Youth (CJNY), is made up of organizations that are doing everything that they can to work toward not only addressing youth violence, but also holding youth-serving systems accountable for improving life outcomes for the most vulnerable among us. Some of our members in Chicago have formed a collective to organize around “common sense” gun laws. One of their targets for direct action was Chuck's Gun Shop & Pistol Range in Riverdale, which allows Chicago residents to circumvent a city ban on handguns by selling them just outside city limits. Activists allege that handguns purchased there are responsible for roughly 70 percent of Chicago gun murders.
But community-based organizations alone are not enough. This crisis requires leadership on all levels and should no longer be viewed as an isolated issue tackled only by those directly affected and those who choose to care. Efforts like the Black Men and Boys Initiative of the 21 First Century Foundation, the California Endowment, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and others provide important recognition and resources by focusing attention specifically on young black men and boys with the intention of making substantial widespread improvements by the year 2025.
There is a saying that applies to this situation: “If you want to get what you’ve always gotten, do what you’ve always done. If you want something different, you must do something different.”
We must reexamine the way that we as a society view gun-related murder. When the police are involved in a fatal shooting, we are urged not to paint the officer with a wide brush, as seen in the case of Oscar Grant III’s killing. But when the murder is the result of youth-on-youth violence, the “black community” as a whole finds itself immediately under attack. Sometimes, such murders are even used as a justification: Because we kill each other the most, anyone who also kills us should do so without impunity. Even those we pay to serve and protect us.
It is time to refocus efforts and resources and create some real change. Let’s take the number of dollars spent on studying black on black violence and instead invest directly in young black men and women to create a different life trajectory for them – and reduce the reliance on guns as a solution to social problems.
Our work begins today.