Fear Brings Silence

A silhouette showing a police officer striking...
A silhouette showing a police officer striking a person, symbolising police brutality. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend of mine, now deceased, wrote a play some time ago called, “Our Young Black Men Are Dying and Nobody Seems to Care.” The playwright, James Chapmyn, composed this choreopoem which has the “voices” of young, black men, now dead, telling their stories. They are dead – some from police violence, some from black-on-black violence, some from HIV/AIDS …and nobody, it seems, cares.

I’ve seen excerpts of the work.  What I saw was chilling; it brought me to tears. Young, black, men, crying for someone to hear them, care about them…Chapmyn’s work was spot-on.

And yet, in spite of this work and the truth it shares, the situation is still the same. Young, black men are dying and still, nobody seems to care.

The silence of everyone is troubling; the silence and lack of desire to become involved by black people is heart-breaking. Silence means we acquiesce to situations before us. We are acquiescing to the violence and the “reasons” that the violence is said to occur that we have been fed.

Just this morning, I read the piece about the young man in North Carolina, 17-year-old Jesus Huerta, who, while his hands were handcuffed behind his back and he was sitting in a police care, apparently shot himself in the head and died. (http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/police-say-teen-shot-self-head-while-hands-cuffed-behind-back)

How does one do that? How is it possible? And why are we who think the story sounds “off” so silent?

OK. So Huerta isn’t black …but he is a young man of color…who is dead…under suspicious circumstances…and he’s not the first one for whom this kind of story has been told.  In 2012 in Arkansas, 21-year-old Chacobie (Chavis) Carter apparently managed to do the same thing.  Sitting in the back seat of a patrol car, young Carter was found dead, a small caliber pistol found near him, and his hands were still handcuffed. (http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/police-say-teen-shot-self-head-while-hands-cuffed-behind-back) In 2012 in Texas, yet another handcuffed teen managed to shoot himself in the head while handcuffed. (http://www.salon.com/2012/12/06/another_handcuffed_young_man_manages_to_shoot_himself/)

It just doesn’t seem feasible that a person can shoot himself while his hands are locked behind his back …and yet that’s the bill of goods we are being told…and nobody is saying anything.

I wonder if we are afraid to speak up and speak out.  Do you remember how, in the movie, Twelve Years a Slave, that  nobody said anything, did anything, while Solomon Northrup was hanging from that rope? For hours, he hung there, and people looked…and then looked away. Only a few were brave enough to offer him a drop of water. And I have read how, even during the height of the Civil Rights movement, though everyone knew horrible things were going on, few people had the courage to say or do anything. They had reasons; they were threatened with loss of life, home, job …or all of the above…and so they kept silent. The Civil Rights movement brought about change because young people and children …who had little to lose economically, refused to be silent.

Is it that we are still afraid to speak up against injustice because we feel we have too much to lose? Nobody wants to be labeled…you know, called a “radical” or “trouble-maker.” Everybody just kind of wants to go along to get along…and to hang onto what they have. The threat of economic and social ostracization is real. Many good people have remained silent, trying to hold onto their piece of “the American dream” and what little status they have. Fannie Lou Hamer, I remember, was beaten nearly to death and lost her home when she dared speak up for voting rights for black people. Nobody wants to be beaten or thrown out into the street for standing up for justice.

But what about the children? What about the modern-day lynchings that just keep happening? How in the world does a person with his hands in handcuffs behind his back manage to shoot himself in the head?  I don’t get it. Are more of us questioning … but are afraid to “make a stink” about it” Is it that we feel like we cannot afford to speak up and speak out?

Is that why our young men are dying …and nobody seems to care?

A candid observation …

Are Kids Trying to Tell Us Something?

We must be doing something wrong as a society.

Today a young teen was shot and killed and four others shot and injured by another teen at Chardon High School, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. The alleged shooter is a young man named T.J. Lane who reportedly went into the high school’s cafeteria a little after 7 a.m. and began shooting. Young Lane was said by newscasters to have had a “lot of resentment.”

Only he knows why he is so unhappy. One student at the high school who knows him said he comes from a broken home, but that he was “quiet and nice.” Then whatever happened? For how long has this young man been unhappy or mad or sad, and nobody noticed?

There seem to be a couple of issues in these types of situations: first, a young person is sad or unhappy and either nobody notices or nobody cares. Depression among young people is high, but very often, teens are ignored and their depression or other serious mental imbalance is regarded as “normal,” if unpleasant, behavior for teens. There still is no clear understanding why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot 13 classmates in the horrendous shooting at Columbine High School in 1999.  Investigators say they had not been bullied, a common reason given for teen violence, but clearly, something was wrong. Those two young men were not happy.

Neither is there much understanding as to why Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007. Apparently the young man showed signs of being disturbed and unhappy, but few took him seriously.

Whatever the reasons for these horrible shootings, a second thing that seems to keep coming up is that young people seem to think that violence is the way to handle their pain. They must be learning that from us older people,  who too frequently resort to violence as well. How many times have we heard that children will do what you do before they will do what you say? It seems fruitless to tell a child or young person not to be violent when they see adults resort to violence all too often.

Not only, however, do the kids direct their violence toward others; too often, they turn the violence on themselves as well.

Something is very wrong.

It seems that people in general are violent, notwithstanding belief in God, a Constitution, or “family values.” America‘s history is peppered with violence, from the time the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. Diplomacy and fairness do not seem to be favored or respected ways of handling conflict; violence, on the other hand, has had a prominent role in conflict management from the beginning.

“Drive-by shootings” were commonplace way before now; in pioneer days, gunfights were common and during Prohibition, gangsters made drive-by shootings almost romantic. Elliot Ness and others were romanticized for their conquests taken by and through violence.

The point is that it seems that we have taught our children that the way to handle our pain is by eliminating “the enemy.” How many of the kids who have gone into schools, shooting, or disgruntled employees who have done the same, have voiced discontent with the way they have been treated by others? Violence is often the last resort of people who feel powerless. Ending someone’s life, or seriously hurting them fills that void…or does it really?

I don’t think young Mr. Lane feels all that powerful now. He has destroyed his life and taken the life of at least one other young person. We older people, I think, need to stop and think. Perhaps we are failing as mentors and leaders and advisors for too many young people, who are struggling with problems of self-esteem and self-love, and who are on a path of self-destruction.

I cannot imagine the pain of the parents of the young man who left home this morning for school, only to die a senseless and tragic death. My hope is that we can learn something before something like this happens again. Violence doesn’t bring a sense of power to one who feels powerless.It only brings pain and, too often, a desire for revenge.

Enough, already.

A candid observation.