NPR logo One Question: Why?

Crime & Punishment

One Question: Why?

Here is a post that came in while we were broadcasting from Las Vegas. Our web producer Lee Hill sent it to me and I decided to wait to reply because I thought it deserved a more thoughtful answer than I could deliver amidst the craziness last week.

The post came in response to our segment on the employment prospects of ex-offenders. Andre told us she is an African American woman, married, with two children, one college-bound and one still in high school.

Here's an abbreviated version.

She writes:

I am irritated by the constant focus on black male incarceration rates and the obsession with black male ex-offenders. Its as though we now accept that the black male progression to adulthood includes at least a stint or two in the penitentiary followed by a life of low-wage jobs, drug dependency, violence, or recidivism.
...I would love for your show to tell me more about the following: I want to know why so many black parents are getting away with shirking their responsibilities, especially black men? I want to know why parents are not being held accountable. I want to know why black men, after all of their Million Man March bravado, are missing in action. But I don't want to hear the excuses. None of these excuses explain away the violence, the depravity, and self-annihilation that consumes many black communities.
...I want to hear about college-bound brothers and entrepreneurs. I want to hear about fathers who come home every night, check homework, read bedtime stories, and shoot hoops with their sons.

We had a man like that on the show today. His name is James Harvey and I'm sorry to tell you the reason we had him on. His son, Dashon Harvey, was one of the four children — no, young people ... no, college students — who were gunned down on their knees by five boys and men in a Newark schoolyard last weekend.

When you get some time, here's a tribute to Dashon:

I asked Mr. Harvey if he was ever afraid, as his son was growing up, that that day would come. He told me no, never ... because he had no regrets. He said he'd been there for his son when he was supposed to be there, and his only regret was the many who were not there for their own children.

It seems now that at least three of the assailants were teenagers, one of them possibly as young as 15.

Would somebody please tell me, why?
Why were four young people, on their way to college in the fall, fated to die on their knees at the hands of two or three others?

Let's say you believe evil walks the earth. OK, then what?

Let's say too many parents aren't doing their job. OK, then what?

Let's say it's racism, or the economy, or whatever. OK, then what?

That's why, I say, it's not one or the other. Our conversations cannot be just about thugs (in this case it seems that they were all Latino, but I'm not sure what difference that makes) and their false machismo or upright, do-right men men headed to Ivy covered quads.

The two are linked, if for no other reason than that the world is small, and there is no fence high enough to keep the two apart. This is not to say I don't understand Andre's frustration. I do. But as long as thugs keep do-right young men and women from growing up, then we need to hear their stories, too ... if for no other reason, we need to know why one ends up holding a gun and the other ends up on the other side of it.

Our condolences, once again, to the families of Dashon Harvey, Iofemi Hightower, Terrance Aeriel, who were buried this weekend. Our best wishes for a full recovery to Natasha Aeriel...the only survivor of the Newark attack.

May their deaths and their families' suffering not be in vain.