What a way to start a week. Last Sunday night at around 11:30, as my family and I were trying to get some sleep, I heard a barrage of gunfire outside my Philadelphia home. At first it sounded like fireworks, but I knew better. Suddenly, I heard a woman yell that her brother had been shot, and pleaded that someone call 911.
Shortly thereafter, like clockwork, the cops came, and a young black man ran, stumbling, into the police car. He had been shot in the leg. It was the first time I had seen a black man run to a police to seek refuge, not to mention physically run into a police car for safety. But that’s a topic for another discussion.
Anyway, we noticed looking out the window that several cars were hit by gunfire. Our neighbors rang our bell to alert us that our car was hit. My wife and I came outside and noticed our car had sustained the brunt of the shooting, a number of the 12 to 14 or so rounds that were fired. Multiple bullets shattered our car windows, with some bullets embedded in the seats, and one going completely through a headrest. Our block was a crime scene complete with yellow tape, detectives scattered about with flashlights looking for shell casings, and the cops were there all night and into the morning holding it down.
Here’s apparently what happened: someone was retaliating against this young brother who lived across the street from us, for whatever reason – drugs, money, women, whatever. The gunman stood next to or in front of our house and unloaded his weapon, hitting his targeted victim who was sitting in front of his house diagonally across the street from us. A bad shot to be sure – which is good news for the dude who was only injured and not murdered – given the damage done to a number of cars.
But really, who gives a damn about a car? I am thankful my family was unharmed and safe and no one was killed. I am thankful I did not decide to take out the garbage late that night, or that none of the bullets ricocheted into our home. After losing my first son Ezra five years ago next month to a stillbirth, I cannot imagine, and I don’t want to imagine what I’d do if any harm was visited upon my 3-year-old son, Micah. We told him a bad man wrecked the car, like in his favorite movie, Wreck-It Ralph, that’s all.
As usual, I’m always looking at the bigger picture, the socioeconomic implications in everything. So this incident was no different. Our community of Francisville is in transition, a booming, gentrified area on the borderline of North Philly and the affluent Fairmount/Art Museum area. And it is a diverse neighborhood in terms of race and class. There are the old-timers and their extended families, mostly blacks and some Latinos, homeowners who were have been here since the old days of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Then there are young and middle age professionals, predominantly white but also people of color such as myself. There are also the renters, the students who attend nearby Temple University.
But there are also the folks who slipped through the cracks, viewed as the throwaways – young black folks with no education, no training, no employment prospects and no positive future ahead. Thanks to the Tea Party leaders who govern this state into the ground, the sorry excuse for an education in this city is little more than a prison preparatory program, a holding pen for the state pen, and these kids know it. How do you explain crippling cuts to education in this predominantly black and brown school district, just as they plan to build two spanking new prisons?
These kids are poor and own nothing, so they believe they have no stake in the community. Receiving government assistance or having a record, they face monitoring and scrutiny by the government. It is so hard for them to get many things in life, but it seems very easy for black young people to obtain assault weapons. Crappy schools are yours for the taking, and your right to vote is in hopeless peril, but you can count on two things – a gun if you need one, and a prison cell if you successfully graduate from the school-to-prison pipeline that the system cynically and diabolically set up for your imminent failure.
I’m pissed off about the shooting, and angry about a society that would produce individuals such as the man who shot up the block the other night, without regard for the potential innocent lives lost or the destruction left in his path. I can only imagine the circumstances that allow him to proceed down this wretched path in life. Maybe there was no one to look out for him or to read to him at night, such as a caring mother or father. No role models or mentors. Perhaps he was abused by a family member, or was caught up in the child welfare system. Perhaps he had no one to provide him with nutritious meals. Maybe the extent of his nutrition came from regular visits to the corner bodega. Chips and sugar water are not the way to sustain a healthy mind.
And yet, such a person needs to be “under the jail” for realizing his Wild West or gangland fantasies in a residential area. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have too many prisons, because we do. And we need to find alternatives to this prison madness that is destroying our communities and eating up our black, Latino and poor white men, solutions that build up families and create opportunities and productive citizens. We need to address the national culture of violence and the pain and trauma it creates, as well as the equally pervasive regime of punishment and retribution.
What we don’t need are lectures from the Fox News peanut gallery on so-called “black-on-black” crime – which often come with gratuitous condemnations of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Ben Jealous and the NAACP, and the civil rights movement in general – whenever we invoke the name of Trayvon Martin or some other child who was killed by a self-deputized slave patrolman. We can chew gum and walk at the same time, as these are not mutually exclusive.
And we can and must condemn the carnage in our communities, and the self-hatred and internalized oppression, even as we identify and challenge the racism in the courtroom, the board room, the classroom, the death chamber, and in those “Stand Your Ground” and Voter ID laws. It’s all connected.
So in the meantime, the car will be repaired. But there are lives in need of fixing, and a society in need of healing. And who will make that happen?
The Black Commentator
Thursday, 25 July 2013