Here we are 3 weeks into Black History Month and young Black men are being talked about again. This time in the context of 4 murders in the past 4 weeks. "Men" isn't the right term. These were boys. Ages 9 - 15.
I googled all of them and looked at their faces, looked at the all too familiar pictures of family members & friends, draped over coffins, laying on the floor in grief...and carrying them to their final resting place...and I feel nothing but sadness and hopelessness. Because I've seen it all before. Too many times.
My connection with the violence in Toronto is intimate. I grew up poor, with no mother and no father. Bouncing around from hood to hood. The levels of poverty and violence that I can recall usually have people thinking I was talking about life in a 3rd world country.
I can recall my homie dying violently the summer of 1996. He was shot in the heart in a downtown poolhall. After that, the cascade started, everyone from kids I grew up with (shot in the chest in Yonge-Dundas Square during Caribana) to peripheral acquaintances (Shot on a street corner in Regent Park) to close family friends (Shot on the bridge that divides St. Jamestown & Rosedale). There are plenty more. Last year a quiet, wide eyed, goofy kid that I used to coach turned up dead, shot in the stairwell of the apartment building where we lived. I was floored. Of every kid I knew, he would have been the last one I would expect to meet such a violent, lonely death.
It wasn't until I started hanging out with white people and anytime they spoke of death, it was due to an accident or illness when I realized that my experience wasn't normal. For a few years I stopped paying attention because I got tired of seeing my peers on the front page. I started paying attention again and nothing's changed. I know what the responses will be. They will be the same responses we had during the summer of 2012 after the Danzig shootings & they will be the same responses that we had in 2005, after the "summer of the gun".
Police will say "people in the community need to talk" & call for more cops on the street. The politicians will call for tougher laws, the parents will tell us what good boys they were and how they didn't deserve their fate, people on "the right" will use it as an opportunity to talk about a perceived "moral failing" in the "Black community" and people on "the left" will talk about social programs. Racists will use it as an example to justify their beliefs and some "leader of the Black community" that I've never heard of will use it as a reason to spout their own twisted, backwards, agenda. And in a few weeks we will all go about our business with nothing changing. Just like what happened after Danzig, after the boxing Day shooting and after the summer of the gun.
Life goes on because life must go on. But it's time we looked at what the real cause is. Not the convenient one that will leave everyone scratching their heads, raging on talk radio and bellyaching until the next big news story hits.
The sad fact, is these killings will continue because our society is a fundamentally unjust one. Not just for people of color, but for all people. Humans are imperfect creatures. The problems that ail the "Black" community aren't really problems that ail the "Black" community. They are the problems that ail our society. More disturbing is the recent buzz word painting this as a failure of the "black community's culture". As if there is a monolithic "Black" culture to point to. The whole "culture" argument is a convenient, cowardly red herring. It's not only grossly mis-informed, it serves to place the blame on "they" as opposed to "we", abdicating society as a whole from any responsibility for the well being of our fellow citizens. From ensuring that the human frailties that we all possess
I get it. We live in North America. And we've made it very easy to color-code & divide people. It's very easy to pass off a fundamentally violent & unjust society as advanced and evolved when you can point to "those people" and "their problems". So instead of saying "it's a black issue" (can't do that, it would be racist, amirite?), people call it a "cultural issue" while not being able to identify who's culture it is and point of lack of marriage and fathers as the fundamental issue. It's not. It's the economics, stupid.
The real problem is generational poverty and all the ills that come with it. There are mental, physical, emotional and spiritual repercussions that are never talked about. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a 10 year old and saw that they have already given up on life? I have. I was almost one of them. How many kids do you think right now are clinically depressed? Suffering from PTSD after witnessing domestic violence, seeing a dead body, seeing people get shot, stabbed or beat up? How about listening to their parents tell them how they will only get "so far" before X stops them? What does that do to a child's self esteem and how does it inform his / her choices in life? Yes, culture has an influence. For instance, all those "Baby Mamas" are the result of a culture that's influenced by evangelical Christianity that states it's worse to do the responsible thing and have an abortion, than to be a single parent. Is that a moral failing? Or a cultural proclivity based in religion that needs to be addressed systematically?
Dr. King started working on the "Poor People's Campaign", a multi-racial effort, which focused on fundamental inequalities in society for all people, but he was killed before he could get that message across. You see, he realized that "civil rights" were only one part of the "equality equation". There were "systematic flaws of racism, poverty, militarism and materialism that had to be dealt with and argued that "reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced". And nothing has changed. In fact, it seems to have gotten worse.
And that is the crux of the matter. Society itself needs to be reconstructed in order for these problems to end. The question is, how many of us, ALL of us are brave enough to address these issues and speak truth to power?