Newark Shootings: Why?
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Every now and again, when I have something on my mind, I like to talk about it in a commentary. And today, I want to talk about an issue raised by a listener that came in while we were broadcasting from Las Vegas last week. 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. The post came in in response to our segment last week on the employment prospects of ex-offenders.
The writer's name is Andre. She told us she's 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. It's as though we now accept that the black male progression to adulthood includes at least a stint or two in a 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 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, the 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.
Can I just tell you? We had a man like that on the show on Monday. His name is James Harvey, and I'm sorry to tell you that the reason we had him on is that his son, Deshawn Harvey, was one of the four kids - no, college students who were gunned down on their knees by five boys and men in a Newark schoolyard last weekend. 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 alleged 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 kids their own age? And can you please tell me what to do next?
Let's say you believe evil walks the earth. Okay. Then, what? Let's say you believe that too many parents aren't doing their job. Okay. Then, what? Let's say it's racism or the economy or whatever. Okay. Then, what?
That's why I say it's not one or the other. Our conversation cannot just be about thugs of whatever color and their false machismo. In this case, it seems the shooters were all Latino, but I'm not sure what difference that makes. It can't just be about the upright, do-right man headed to Ivy covered quads. The two are linked, if for no other reason that the world is small and that there is no fence high enough to keep the two apart.
This is not to say I don't understand our listener Andre's frustration. I do. But as along as thugs keep do-right young men and women from going up, then we need to hear their stories, too. If for no other reason, than 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 Deshawn Harvey, Ofemi 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 family's suffering not be in vain.
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MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.
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