Some time ago, the late playwright James Chapmyn wrote a play entitled, Our Young Black Men Are Dying and Nobody Seems to Care. The play highlights the struggles African-American men face in this country and shows how it affects their very psyches, their spirits, their will to go on …
I thought about that as I read about the latest incident of a black man being shot and killed in Chicago. The 30-year old father was sitting in his home when a shot rang out from a passing car. It went through a window of his home, hitting him in the head and instantly killing him.
Ironically, his mother was visiting a friend not too far away. The two of them were talking about another son of hers who in April of this year was killed by gunfire. He was 25 years old. When she heard the shots fired while she was visiting her friend, she immediately bolted out to see what had happened. To her horror, her second son lay dead.
The rate of black men dying by homicide is high and has always been high; the homicide rate in the city of Chicago for the month of November was 49 percent. Black men are dying, either on the streets or in prisons, and nobody seems to care.
There has been legitimate outrage over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, allegedly by George Zimmerman earlier this year, and just a couple of weeks ago, a young, unarmed African-American teen, Jordan Davis, was shot after a white man, irritated because the music in the SUV in which a group of young black men were riding was too loud, allegedly fired eight shots into the vehicle, killing Davis. Again, there is outrage as the accused man, Michael Dunn, may try to use the same “stand your ground” law that Zimmerman is using as justification for his actions and that outrage is legitimate.
But where is the outrage over the fact that black people keep killing…black people? Is there outrage and the media simply does not cover it, or has the African-American community grown numb to the widespread violence in so many of its communities?
There are a few isolated souls who protest against the violence that rips through too many African-American communities. Fr. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church. leads an annual march against violence in Chicago. Other pastors have been known to lead protests and hold conferences to address the issue.
But their efforts get little national attention. It is as though the country has fallen asleep on this issue, not caring about the young men, dying…
This issue is difficult to even write about. Dr. Robert Franklin, the outgoing president of Morehouse College, said in passing last week that our young black men need much help. Marian Wright Edelman, head of the Children’s Defense Fund, has identified the so-called “cradle to prison” syndrome. Tony Harris, a former CNN anchor, recently did a documentary about the plight of young black men living in Baltimore. He, too, said that there is so much to be done.
Violence often comes, writes Dr. Joy Degruy Leary in Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America‘s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, because of anger, and anger in African-Americans is directly linked to legacy of chattel slavery in this country. She asks, “Why is it that anger is such a large part of the experience of most African-Americans?” Her answer, quoting Dr. James Samuels, is that “anger is the normal response to a blocked goal. Often, if a person’s goal remains blocked over time, they will begin to consider the possibility of failure and so experience fear, and when we are fearful, we also lash out with anger.”
Young African-Americans are faced with feeling “less than” and “not worthy” early on in their lives. They are parented by parents who wrestle with feelings of failure, and then they go to school which are often in bad physical shape, with substandard teachers, huge classes, outdated books, and far too little of what they need to receive a quality education. Jonathon Kozol writes that he has seen little black children enter school excited about being there, but by third grade, their excitement is gone; they have internalized that they are “not so special.” They stop trying. They fall into a mindset that is ripe for the anger that produces violence.
Dr. Leary says that African-American parents continue to raise their children “in the face of a multitude to indignities, disrespect and blocked goals. Their frustration is passed on to their children…
And so, black men, black youth, black boys are dying, either on the streets, or they end up in prisons and die spiritually while they are caged up.
More of us need to care. The 49 percent homicide rate in Chicago for the month of November is scary, and Chicago is not the only major urban area experiencing this kind of violence. If we in the African-American community have fallen asleep in order to numb ourselves to the constant pain of our young men, dying, we need to wake up and look at the issue in a new way…and do something. White America needs to understand that much of the violence in our country is due to young people feeling hopeless and frustrated due to the shock waves of slavery and its child, racism; Michael Dunn, accused of shooting and killing Jordan Davis, is a victim of racism, too. Nobody, black or white, can afford to ignore or escape the problem.
Author James Baldwin said in an interview with Studs Terkel in 1961 that he was no longer angry with America. He said he is very worried about it…because the “country has no notion whatever of what it has done to itself.” The price of keeping blacks and whites separated, stepping on one race while lifting up the other, has had disastrous effects on both races. Both races are violent.
But the violence in urban communities comes too often from black people hurting black people. Too many African-American communities are sleeping and too many white communities are point accusatory fingers and shaking their heads about “those people.”
There is not “those people.” There is “us people,” and “us people” need to all be concerned and working against the epidemic of black men, dying.
A candid observation …