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Racial pride can fight black-on-black crime

Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Robert L.  Jamieson Jr. writes about the problem of black-on-black crime and a possible solution.
/ Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Less than a city mile separates hope from despair.

The old Colman School on South Massachusetts Street is a beacon for the future. The mayor and U.S. senators will gather there today for a groundbreaking to celebrate the Northwest African-American Museum.

The $20 million museum project will showcase the rich contributions blacks have made to the region's artistic, historical and cultural life.

But drive a bit north from the school, then head west.

This will bring you to Seattle's Judkins Park.

What occurred at this patch of urban green Tuesday should prompt us all to take a look within.

Gunfire crackled, piercing a spring evening's peace. Police say a young tough with a handgun fired several shots into a Lincoln Navigator, hitting the driver several times. The vehicle pinged and then ponged into an area where children play, striking a tree, a soccer goal, a light pole and a fence before rolling to a stop.

The victim behind the wheel was a black man in his late 40s. As for the 16-year-old kid who was nabbed hiding under a nearby porch? He's black, too.

Few took note of the black-on-black nature of this crime, part of the ongoing urban pathology involving too many young black males in America.

For them, the land of plenty has become a land of missed opportunity. They're slipping from the American ladder.

Some of these youths come to believe that life isn't worth a damn. They'll just pick up a gun and shoot.

In coming days, the details of the recent bloodshed will become known. We'll learn about the young suspect, who is now in juvie, and how his paths crossed with the driver of the SUV. We'll hear about his suspected accomplice, also a youth, who is still on the run.

In the end, I suspect this tale will be like so many urban crime tragedies -- touching on a troubled home or inconsistent schooling or past brushes with the law.

It all sounds too familiar.

Sociologists tell us a segment of black men are becoming disconnected from mainstream society. "There's something very different happening with young black men, and it's something we can no longer ignore," Ronald Mincy, a professor of social work at Columbia University, told The New York Times this year.

The big question is what "very different" means.

Some experts believe the problem stems from people who choose not to take responsibility for their lives. There's some truth in that, but it's not the whole story, as some political conservatives would argue.

Other factors play a role, beginning and ending with a sense of hopelessness.

Such despair is fed to young people when urban schools do not get adequate funding to teach or obtain school supplies. The feeling grows when good kids feel under siege, afraid even to go to school because rival gangs are staking out turf and trying to recruit new members.

Hopelessness builds when bias steps into the picture.

A recent study by university experts on the East Coast found that poorly educated blacks were less successful than equally qualified whites and Latinos in gaining employment. The study concluded that discrimination represents "a major barrier" to economic self-sufficiency.

If one can't make ends meet legally, he or she will resort to "other" means -- such as slinging drugs on the street corner.

Hopelessness deepens when society sends out messages telling young black males that success means scoring with the ladies and having fancy cars and jewelry.

Problem is those pop- culture messages never provide a viable or advisable map on how to get such material things.

Young people sense it is cooler to be an A-list rap celebrity or wannabe banger than an A-student working two jobs. The country's cultural values are getting flubbed up in a blinged-out world of nihilism and instant gratification.

Comedian Bill Cosby gets it partly right when he says blacks should be proactive and fix their own communities. But that works only if families and community institutions such as the church are strong and up to the task.

Actor Hill Harper is on to something. Harper, a cast member of "CSI: New York," has written a book, "Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny."

The book advises young people to choose friends wisely, value hard work, make wise financial decisions and understand that sexual conquests don't constitute being a man.

Such a message is a huge step that cries out to be met with tangible civic and community engagement.

The folks behind the African-American Museum in Seattle are headed in the right direction as well. If young people know their history, museum backers believe, they will better know themselves. That could lead to cultural pride and an enhanced view of life.

Maybe then they won't waste lives -- their own and others -- by doing something criminally dumb.