Author Topic: Stop the War--Against Our Own  (Read 73 times)

Damon X Reppin ATL

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Stop the War--Against Our Own
« on: April 18, 2003, 05:20:55 PM »
Stop the War--Against Our Own
 Domestic racism produces conflict as threatening as any overseas.
By Bonnie Bell Boswell, Bonnie Bell Boswell is a reporter-producer and talk-show host.

As a mother of two African American boys, ages 14 and 18, I worry a lot.

Last week, three African American men, Brian Byrd, Ty Elliot and Damon Burris, were killed in South Los Angeles on the same day. Despite a 20% decrease in citywide murders in 2003 compared with the corresponding period of last year, these homicides marked the most recent in a series of killings.

A week earlier, 13-year-old Joseph Swift was shot to death in broad daylight as he left Bible study. Another youth, 14-year-old Marquise Pickens, was killed moments later as he stood outside a mini-mall.

Brian Byrd's brother is a sailor in the Middle East. But it was Brian himself who fell in the streets of Los Angeles. A family friend told a Los Angeles Times reporter: "You tell President Bush that when he is through deploying troops over there, they should send them back here to [fight] this war."

"This war" is what many in the community call the war against black men.

Statistics tell part of the story. According to the state Department of Health Services, in 2001 the homicide rate for African American males in Los Angeles County ages 15 to 24 was 201 per 100,000, compared with 12 per 100,000 for whites. But that's not all. Blacks are more likely to have heart disease, diabetes, cancer and AIDS. Nearly one of every three black men is in the penal system. And young black men are more than twice as likely to be out of work as their white peers.

The issue is not that the surge of homicides in Los Angeles is so new, but that it's part of a pattern that's so old.

My own children inhabit a space that is different in degree from the world that claimed the lives of Brian Byrd and Joseph Swift. My boys, by any standard, are privileged. They live in a fashionable neighborhood and attend excellent schools. Yet they need to be vigilant. They are young, black and male -- and it does make a difference.

The first "rite of passage" for my children upon entering adolescence was instruction on how to behave in public. "Don't run in the mall or in the street," I told them. "You will be perceived as guilty until proven innocent." I know. My brother, an off-duty policeman investigating a neighborhood robbery, was killed by a white officer who arrived at the scene, shot first and asked questions later. No one cared that our grandfather had gone to Yale.

Racism is not impressed by ZIP Code. It is a shared experience that binds my children to others throughout the city; for that I am grateful because, although I worry about my children's physical protection, I also worry about their moral vitality.

Many people have lost their emotional compass. They are momentarily shocked by the brutality of the urban battlefield, but after checking where the tragedies take place, they simply go on with their daily lives.

My children cannot easily ignore the indecent loss of life simply because it did not occur in their backyard. They understand that the chronic murder rate of nine to 12 people a week is as bad as the killings we've just experienced.

I've taught them the math. Out of every tax dollar spent by Angelenos, 22 cents goes to the military, 3 cents goes to education and less than a penny goes to job creation. Crime thrives in the soil of willful neglect.

What will end the domestic war faced by many African American men? Will Brian Byrd's brother return to a conflict at home as threatening as the one he left overseas? Will we continue to be content to live in a city that is psychologically restricted?

Neither hand-wringing nor hardball tactics have been effective. I believe that a lasting solution will come only when we see other people's children as our own. Then we will know exactly what to do.

It is not for Brian Byrd or Joseph Swift or my children that we must cross this emotional boundary. As surely as the DNA that connects us all, we must do it to salvage our own humanity.