Commentary: The Uneasy Question - Why Are So Many Young Blacks So Quick to Kill and Die?
Date: Sunday, June 18, 2006
By: Deborah Mathis, BlackAmericaWeb.com
I don't know what they would have done in my community back in the day. One young person gunned down would have rendered the town apoplectic. When folks could walk again, it would have been with a slow, stunned shuffle. When they could talk again, the tones of their conversation would have been dulled by disbelief, fear and mourning. And they would have talked about it all the time for years.
In those good old days, you simply did not hear about young people being killed, save for the occasional traffic accident, drowning or the final measure of some dreadful disease. News of a child being shot to death -- especially rare and shocking -- came only when a kid had found a handgun stashed in the house and toyed with it most tragically. Never, but never, did we hear of a youngster shooting anyone intentionally.
The shooting deaths of five young people in the same place at the same time simply would have been unthinkable back then. I don't know that we would have ever recovered.
But recover they must once again in New Orleans, where, on Saturday, one 16-year-old, one 17-year-old and three 19-year-olds all went down in a hail of gunfire in broad daylight. Two of the victims were related.
Although they have seen plenty in their troubled city, New Orleans police are even reeling from the incident. One veteran police captain couldn't recall the last time so many were slain at once. Authorities are looking for the shooter or shooters, operating on the premise that the attack involved drugs or retaliation or both.
The motive could be helpful in nailing the villains, but it will not cut very deeply into what makes sense to us. There is no good, acceptable, justifiable reason to take out five young lives. Not out of anger, rivalry, vengeance or sport. Not for any reason. Not in a city that has ample constructive needs for healthy young men. Not anywhere. Not on a lazy summer weekend. Not ever.
Now, families who have already survived one of the greatest catastrophes to ever befall an American city will have to muster the strength to bury their young. They will have to learn anew how to go on and move ahead. They will have to endure the torment of wondering why and what they could have done to save the young men -- an inquiry that may or may not be overdue.
Potentially, someone else will lose their child to the prison cell, perhaps even to death row, and if they have any inkling of it today, they must be wrestling with misery too.
Considerable energy and resources have been poured into the analysis of what went wrong before, during and after Hurricane Katrina struck -- why the evacuation orders came so late; why school buses were not mobilized to move people out of endangered areas; why the Superdome and other makeshift shelters degenerated into swamps of suffering and danger; why the levees broke; why the Lower Ninth Ward still looks like it was leveled by a bomb.
Another pernicious problem is begging for solutions: Why are so many young people, especially young black and Latino men, so quick to kill and die?
Fellas always had gripes and grievances, always competed, often got out of hand. But, back then, they cared first and foremost about survival -- the other guy's as well as their own.
What caused the breach in the levee between then and now? What wrought this awful flood?