Precinct 333

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Someone Who "Gets It"

Yesterday I critiqued a column by someone who doesn't "get it" when it comes to school and social problems. Today I've found someone who does "get it," Joseph H. Brown of the Tampa Tribune. Let me offer a few tidbits for you.

I have to give it to Jeff Rawlins, assistant principal at Jefferson High School. Frustrated by the recent murders of Kwane Doster and John Simmons, he challenged the community in last weekend's Saturday Forum to start a movement against black-on- black crime. I have to give him his props because he, a white man, has shown more outrage about the staggering homicide rate among young black men than any black person around here.

Doster, 21, and Simmons, 15, were shot to death over ``trash talk,'' the in-your-face banter that goes on between young black men over the most trivial of issues. It happens too frequently, and Rawlins, a career educator who has ``spent too much time crying with scores of concerned parents and grandparents,'' has had enough.

Need I recite the sad statistics?

In 2002 the United States had 14,054 homicides, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Black men accounted for nearly 40 percent of victims, and black men committed 95 percent of those murders. Those are alarming statistics for a group that makes up about 6 percent of the population.

So why, as Rawlins wondered, haven't national black organizations put the issue of black fratricide front and center? The reasons are as old and outdated as some of their agendas.

Yeah, that's right -- it is always either the white man's fault or fear that the white man will take it as confirmation of racist beliefs -- so blacks keep on dying at the hands of other blacks.

On Monday the nation celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther King, a man whose tactics to achieve equality for black America stressed nonviolence. There will be much talk of his ``dream,'' but there will be little talk of the fact that King considered self-criticism an essential part of the struggle for equality. In his 1958 book ``Stride Toward Freedom,'' he wrote:

``Negroes must be honest enough to admit that our standards do often fall short. One of the sure signs of maturity is the ability to rise to the point of self- criticism. Whenever we are objects of criticism from white men, even though the criticisms are maliciously directed and mixed with half truths, we must pick out the elements of truth and make them the basis of creative reconstruction. We must not let the fact that we are victims of injustice lull us into abrogating responsibility for our own lives.''

King went on to say: ``Our crime rate is far too high. ... Negro leaders must develop a positive program through which Negro youth can become adjusted to urban living and improve their general level of behavior.''

Yeah. We never hear THAT Martin Luther King mentioned by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Julian Bond, and the like among "black leaders." When Bill Cosby dared to echo some of these comments, he was criticized by the "blame the white man" crowd for blaming the so-called "victims" who are committing the crimes of violence against their own people. When acting right is "acting white" and therefore to be avoided, the problem is not one of white racism but rather of a pathology within the community itself.

My students are 75-80% minority -- about 45% Hispanic and 35% black. I am, as I frequently joke with my students, a short, fat, balding, middle-aged white guy. I don't have the power to make the changes that have to happen to stave off violence within their communities -- I don't always have the power to stave off a fight in the hallway. Changing me isn't the answer. It is a concerted effort to change the kids that is needed, one that has the cooperation of all the institutions in the community. But it has to be a program that isn't about a mentality of victimization from without, but rather one of empowerment from within.


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