Real Life New Jack Cities
In the pop hit movie, "New Jack City," black drug gangs beat, maim and kill each other as well as innocents in an urban ghetto (shot in Harlem). The film was riveting, terrifying, and disturbing, but it was the stuff of fiction. The recent mob mauling of Charlie Young, Jr. in Milwaukee by a pack of black youths, one as young as 10 years old, was anything but fiction. The Milwaukee attack came the same week two teens were sentenced for beating to death the grandson of civil rights icon Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama.
At least a dozen other youths also joined in the attack. In June, another mob of young blacks grabbed national headlines when they stomped to death two men in Chicago.
It's tempting to dismiss these murders as freak, isolated rampages by a bunch of underage, aimless, violence-prone thugs, and point the finger at the usual suspects --- gangs, drugs, and lousy (or no) parents in the home. The instant, and reflexive, demand is to throw armies of police at the youthful lawbreakers, no matter what their age, and throw away the key. Many of the young wilders fit the standard ghetto pathology syndrome; in Milwaukee some of the youths had rap sheets for drugs and burglaries.
But more police, prosecutors, three strikes, and mandatory sentencing laws, the death penalty, and the nearly one million blacks behind bars, have done little to curb the black-on-black carnage. And there's little chance that these harsh measures by themselves ever will. A recent Justice Department study confirmed that the murder count has sharply jumped this year, and in most cases the victims and their killers are likely to be young black males. The murder rate among blacks is seven times greater than among whites. This comes at a time when the crime rate, including violent crime, has reached a near rock bottom low among whites.
Despite the pet theories of liberals and conservatives, blacks aren't killing each other because they are violent or crime prone by nature, or solely because they are poor and oppressed. Or even because they are acting out the obscene and lewd violence they see and hear on TV, films, and in gangster rap lyrics on the streets. The hunt for reasons for the seemingly senseless carnage must go much deeper. The violence results from a combustible blend of cultural and racial baggage that many blacks carry.
In the past crimes committed by blacks against other blacks were often ignored or lightly punished. The implicit message was that black lives were expendable. Many studies have confirmed that the punishment blacks receive when the victim is white is far more severe than if the victim is black. This perceived devaluation of black lives by racism has encouraged disrespect for the law and has forced many blacks to internalize anger and displace aggression onto other blacks.
Far too many young black 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. When many black males indulge their murderous impulses on women and other black males, they are often taking out their pent-up frustrations on those whom they perceive as helpless and hapless. And that's important to understand, because those young blacks who commit self-destructive acts, no matter how far beyond the pale of society's accepted code of behavior, still are savvy enough to target victims who not only look like them, but who pose no physical or personal threat to them. The mob's victims in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Montgomery were low-income, middle-aged men, or had alcohol and drug problems. They were easy pickings.
The sharp upswing in the number of young persons in the most crime-prone aged group, 14 to 20, fueled by a volatile mix of chronic unemployment and miserably failing public schools, may trigger a new wave of killings. Yet President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who are fixated on the war on terrorism and dumping Saddam Hussein, remain stone silent on the high black murder rates. They have proposed not a single policy initiative to confront the looming danger.
That would take a crash effort to devise and coordinate short and long-term strategies and programs to provide jobs, training, better education, and boost the self-esteem of at-risk young blacks. But that's only a start.
Schools, churches, community residents, parents, and caregivers must talk to their youth, provide good role models for achievement, and most important, stop making excuses for black kids who are clearly failing and desperately need help. In Milwaukee, some public officials and community groups took to the streets to try to reach these youth.
Unless more do that, and do it fast, more urban streets will look like "New Jack City."
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and opinion website: www.thehutchinsonreport.com He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).