Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
There’s an outsized map of Chicago on the wall of the office of the Black Star Project. In the center of the map there’s the letter "A". The letter is the Chicago home of the Obamas. The “A” is surrounded by yellow stickers that make the map look like the bullseye of a dart board. The analogy is deadly fitting because each one of the stickers represents a child under age 18 who was murdered.
The victims were all African-American, and outside of their grieving families and friends, a brief mention in the local press, and the pleas from a handful of local activists to do something about the carnage, their deaths drew barely a ripple of media and public attention. The yellow stickers circling Obama’s home are no aberration. In the past year more than 40 young persons have beeen murdered in Chicago, many within a stone’s throw of the President’s home. A three year study of murders in the city found that young black males in the most impoverished parts of the city were 30 times more likely to be murdered than young white males living in white areas.
It took the cell phone video of 16 year-old Derrion Albert being bludgeoned to death on a Chicago street to momentarily at least change that. Obama will deplore the violence, Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan will propose ramped up spending on education youth education and violence prevention programs and anti-gang violence initiatives, and with much media fanfare there’ll be a round-up or two of alleged gang members.
But as in the past the flashy, new initiatives, unveiled after much public anguish over a particular heinous killing, may again fizzle out due to lack of money, lack of political will to push them through, or lack of practicality. Increased dollars alone, Holder’s and Duncan’s inner-city treks, and moral finger wag, will do little to stop the killing. Many of the young men that tuck guns in their waistbands and shoot-up their neighborhoods or beat to death an honors student feel that no one cares whether they live or die. Their belief that their lives are devalued fosters disrespect for the law and forces them to internalize anger and displace aggression onto others.
Many of them, mostly young black and Latino males, have become especially adept at acting out their frustrations at white society's denial of their "manhood" by adopting an exaggerated "tough guy" role. They swagger, boast, curse, fight and commit violent self-destructive acts. The accessibility of drugs, and guns, and the influence of misogynist, violent-laced rap songs also reinforce the deep feeling among many youth that life is cheap and easy to take, and there will be minimal consequences for their action as long as their victims are other young blacks or Latinos. And as long as the attackers regard their victims, such as Albert, as weak, vulnerable, and easy pickings they will continue to kill and maim with impunity.
The other powerful ingredient in the deadly mix of youth violence is the drug plague. Drug trafficking not only provides illicit profits but also makes the violence even more widespread. The innocent victims that are caught in gang shoot-outs thus further fortifying the conviction that inner city streets are depraved war zones.
It's not just drugs and hopelessness that drive young men, especially young black men to kill. The huge state and federal cutbacks in job training and skills programs, the brutal competition for low and semi skilled service and retail jobs from immigrants, and the refusal of many employers to hire those with criminal records have sledge hammered black communities. The unemployment rate of young black males is double and in some parts of the country, triple that of white males. The high number of miserably failing inner-city public schools also fuels the unemployment crisis. They have turned thousands of blacks into educational cripples. These students are desperately unequipped to handle the rapidly evolving and demanding technical and professional skills in the public sector and the business world of the 21st Century. The educational meltdown has seeped into the colleges. According to an American Council of Education report, in the past decade Latino, Asian, and black female student enrollment has soared while black male enrollment has plunged.
There's no magic formula to stop the violence. Federal and state officials must drastically increase funds for violence prevention and gang intervention programs. They must call on educators, health professionals, drug counselors, and gang intervention activists to devise and provide the crucial resources for more programs to keep at risk youth off the streets. The Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Democrats must continue to challenge the Obama administration and corporations to do more to end discrimination and create more job and training opportunities for young blacks.
It took the shock and horror of Derrion’s murder to shake up a president and a nation. The real test is when the shock passes will the White House continue to do what needs to be done to prevent other Derrion Albert’s from meeting the same fate.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January, 2010.