Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Young black violence: A three-part tragedy

Young black violence: A three-part tragedy
By: Michael E. RossTue, 01/27/2009
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There's a tragedy plaguing black America and its youth.
The names read like an honor roll of American misfortune. Sean Bell. Abraham Biggs. Oscar Grant III. Adolph Grimes III. They, and too many more besides them, are young, black, male victims of violence in the United States. Those men and others are part of a three-way tragedy that's plaguing black America and victimizing its youth in unsettling ways.
(Read more about youth violence and find resources.)

Part I: Police brutality
The first part of this tragedy is an old one: Young black men targeted by the police. Recent incidents clearly show that the mantle of change embraced in the nation's voting booths on Election Day hasn't fully trickled down to the nation's precincts and station houses.Cases in point: The New Year's Day slaying of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III in Oakland, Calif. A Bay Area transit police officer shot Grant, perhaps accidentally, while the young father of a 4-year-old daughter lay on a station platform floor.On the same day, Adolph Grimes III, also 22, was shot to death in New Orleans by nine undercover New Orleans police officers.Then there was the New Year's Eve wounding of Robbie Tolan by police officers in a suburb of Houston.All this was preceded in November 2006 with the killing of Sean Bell, a 23-year-old man shot to death by New York City police officers. Fifty bullets were fired at Bell, just hours from being married, and two of his friends. These reflect the persistence of a disturbingly durable trend: the tendency of police officers to perceive young black males as an ipso facto threat to society. That trend's evident in other, more psychologically corrosive ways: Police officers frisked more than 500,000 New Yorkers in 2008, 80 percent of them young black or Latino men, the New York Times reported recently.

Part II: Crime against each other
The second part of this tragedy is a rise in the numbers of young black men being slain by others like them. A study released late in December by criminologists at Northeastern University in Boston found that even as murders nationwide have shown signs of stabilizing, the number of young black men and teenagers who either killed or were killed in shootings has increased sharply since 2000."From 2002 to 2007, the number of homicides involving black male juveniles as victims rose by 31% and as perpetrators by 43%. In terms of gun killings involving this same population subgroup, the increases were even more pronounced: 54% for young black male victims and 47% for young black male perpetrators," the report found.Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, some of which found its way into the Northeastern study, determined that nearly 10 percent of black people arrested for murder in 2007 were under the age of 18."In a sociopolitical environment that is widely (and incorrectly) viewed as post-racial, attacking such intractable problems comes with a new set of challenges," the report found. "While the celebration around Barack Obama's victory is understandable, the real work has to happen now at the grassroots level."

Part III: Self-destructive violence
But the third part of this tragedy is the most disturbing of all: self-destructive violence. It's a fact supported by scholarly studies and law enforcement agency statistics: that young black males, apparently so locked into a sense of despair and hopelessness, are committing suicide and doing it at an alarming rate.One of the most recent and painfully voyeuristic cases was Abraham Biggs, the Florida teenager who overdosed on prescription medication in November and did it live via webcam.Biggs's death represents one of many suicides among young black men. According to the American Association of Suicidology, taking one's life is the third leading cause of death among young black men, who are seven times more likely to kill themselves as black women. Newsweek magazine, citing the AAS findings, explored the issue in its Nov. 25 issue. Dr. Sean Joe, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Michigan, told Newsweek in November that young black men were less inclined to seek treatment for mental-health and emotional problems — an attitude identical to the U.S. military, whose gung-ho culture frowns on soldiers admitting they need help for mental-health issues."The bigger challenge is redrawing black masculinity in general, and the ways in which men perceive what it means to seek help for mental-health issues," Joe told Newsweek. "The degree to which we can reduce the stigma around seeking help, and get men to understand that it isn't weak to seek help for your issues will greatly affect our ability to reach that community." As we hail the inauguration of Barack Obama and the rise of new American possibility, there's no escaping this national three-part tragedy or an irony too sad for words: At a time when at least the political horizon for African Americans has never been brighter, young black men of our future are having that future denied to them, or they're denying it to themselves.

Michael E. Ross, a frequent contributor to The Loop, is a West Coast journalist who blogs frequently on politics, pop culture and race matters at Culchavox. He also writes for The Root and PopMatters.
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1 comment:

Brother OMi said...

while i agree that violence in our communities is something that we should tackle, I do think that we have really forgotten where we were in 1988 until 1992 when homicides in some cities peaked in the thousands.

I remember vividly.

Now I hate to discuss and throw around numbers as if people didn't exist but when you live in a city where in 1992, homicides numbered over 1,000 and in 2006 it barely touched 60... I can say that is a HUGE improvement.

with police brutality, we have the strength in numbers. we have the technology to win.