Ferguson, MO - and a community in denial

The shooting of Michael Brown, Jr. should never have happened.  That it did is a tragedy that has been decades in the making.   Since the beginning of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society”, we have witnessed the onset of federal government largesse to a socio-economic demographic, and while the intent was well-meaning, the results have been just the opposite.  We have witnessed, and still are, the disintegration of the family unit, the respect for law and government entities, and most importantly, the creed of victimization and loss of personal responsibility.

While the President has called upon law enforcement officials and civic and business community leaders to meet with him to discuss how to effect change, the change that is necessary is behavioral and attitudinal, with the latter coming from both sides of the racial equation.  While members of the Black community decry racial stereotypes and profiling, they refuse to accept or understand how these attitudes and wariness were formed not only by members of law enforcement but by others of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.  Growing up in Chicago and watching the nightly news, I can remember my father looking up from his newspaper when another robbery, assault or worse was being reported, and saying, “always the Blacks,’ shake his head and continue reading.  Did that make my father a racist?  No, crime statistics then and now, according to the most recent Chicago Police Department 2010 Annual Report paint the picture.

The report breaks down crime by type and race.  According to this report, the African-American community suffers most frequently from violent crimes committed (62.8%).  Of these violent crimes citywide, for murders, 26.5% of victims are between the ages of 11 and 20, 40.2% between 21 and 30.  For the offenders, 31.6% are between the ages of 11 and 20, 46.1% between 21 and 30 (Exhibits 8b and 8c of the report, respectively).

More disturbing is the racial breakdown of total crime citywide, as shown in Exhibit 12b, “Arrests by Offense Classification, Race and Gender, 2010.”  Of the 165,541 recorded arrests, 120,189 (almost 71.7%) were African-American.

The continuation of this cycle of violence and attitude is being perpetuated by nationally known racial demagogues and opportunists, who feed the victim-hood felt by so many members of the Black community.  Role models such as Dr. Ben Carson, who grew up in a Detroit ghetto to become a world-renowned neuro-surgeon, are dissed in favor of the likes of Beyonce and rappers, who continue the meme of the ‘hood.  The latter are idolized by millions of Black children and teens, who later growing into the parenting roles such as we’ve seen with Michael Brown’s parents.

Mrs. Brown, while appearing on CBS Morning News, said this about her son, “I know my son far too well. He would never do anything like that. He would never provoke anyone to do anything to him and he would never do anything to anybody.”  This statement made in light of the video that showed her son participating in the strong-armed robbery of a small grocery store, including pushing the owner around.  This is quintessential denial.  A grieving mother, yes, but she should have stopped there.  In the same interview, Mr. Brown Sr. indicated he wanted “change”.  But what kind of change?  Change that is only one-sided, as in, how the law enforcement and the legal community approach and process violent crime when involving minority communities?  But why is that change called for predominantly by the Black community and what cultural factors play into that call.

In 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon caused one of the worst oil spills in this country’s history.  One of the hardest hit communities was the Vietnamese in Louisiana.  Fathers, sons, and daughters of the wave of immigrants who fled to this country after the fall of Saigon, were carrying on the tradition of shrimping and fishing so integral to their heritage.  In some cases, the owners of boats, some at $1,000,000, who have been fishing for 50 years were in danger of losing everything or having to start over for a second time, the first being when Hurricane Katrina hit.  Consider this comment made when offers of assistance were being made to help people cope with the BP disaster:

Even with all he knows about navigating the system and securing whatever assistance is available, whether that’s food stamps or BP claim dollars, Nguyen can’t persuade some of his own relatives to get the help they so desperately need.

“One of my wife’s uncles is a very proud man. He’s a deckhand. I told him to come in and talk about services,” Nguyen says. “He said, ‘I can’t stand in line. What if someone sees me?’ “

Recently, the Food Network held its first Teen Tournament with the winner receiving $25,000 cash and a $40,000 culinary school scholarship.  In that tournament, the teen competitors were from all walks of life and racial make-up.  The final two standing were a young Black teen chef-wannabe from Pennsylvania, son of a single parent, who cooks for his mother and siblings to help out, goes to high school and has a dream to become a chef and one day a pastor.  The other finalist was a girl from a small rural southern town, who would be he first person in her family to go to college, cooks for her father and family, and dreams of culinary school so that she doesn’t have to “waitress all my life.”  Other contestants had similar stories and backgrounds, but listening to them, you knew they were wise beyond their years.  They live with the circumstances that they were born into, but they also know that their future is of their own choosing and making.

And those lessons are not being taught by mentors and leaders within the Black community to their own people.  A sweeping statement and potentially arguable.  There are many local civic and church leaders who daily live with the violence as mentioned above within their communities, and are trying their utmost to help their communities cope. But these leaders are dealing with attitudes and behavior that have been ingrained for decades, and show little signs of outwardly changing.

The President has a bully pulpit and could use it more forcefully, however, he has squandered his first six years in office such that many members of the Black community no longer deem his role as relevant as it could be.  Shortly after the death of Trayvon Martin, the President was in Chicago for a fundraiser at his Kenwood home.  While he met with his millionaire backers and bundlers, he couldn’t meet with prominent members of the Black community even as a courtesy to listen and offer comfort, if not help.

The voices of change within the Black community have to come from people like the following young man who recently went viral on Twitter.  He speaks their language and he “gets it,” as in the language of “personal responsibility.”  Multiply this man’s number by a 100 and give them local and national visibility, and maybe we’ll start seeing the change that is so desperately needed within the community.