CALLING YOUNG LEADERS TO STOP THE VIOLENCE
I only recently embraced my status as an “elder”. Actually, I describe myself as an “episodic elder”, eager enough to take one of those lovely over 55 discounts when it serves my purpose, yet reluctant to turn in my party card. Elder status hit me upside the head, though; when a young woman told me she was “tired” of my generation preaching to hers.
I’m willing to stop preaching when young leaders step up. I applaud the Black Lives Matter movement, and am excited when those who are of not African descent join this movement. Still, I am waiting for the same young leaders to demand that their peers stop killing each other.
I’m not embracing the right wing hype about black on black crime, because they don’t talk about white on white crime. I’m not suggesting that the movement for police reform take a back seat to anything else (after all, we can have more than one movement at a time). I am suggesting, however, that young African Americans confront their peers and say “enough”. Cause when “elders” say it, we are accused of preaching.
What if the young people who abhor the killing of their friends and neighbors took shooters and their associates to task. What if they got up in their faces (in safe spaces, of course) and demanded to know why some of the young people who could contribute much to our community have now been massacred in the streets.
Some of these victims of mistaken identity, or wrong place, wrong time are little girls playing on their porches or sitting on Grandma’s lap. Some of them are simply walking home from school, and standing in the wrong place. Some of them are in the middle of simple misunderstandings and lost their lives because of an errant glare, a careless word. Some of them are Charnice Milton.
Charnice Milton was an ambitious young reporter determined to tell the story of Southeast Washington, the part of Washington, DC with the highest poverty rates as well as the highest concentration of African Americans in this gentrifying city. She was in my office fact-checking my most recent book for a few weeks, and she literally shimmered when she spoke of the stories she hoped to tell. She didn’t want to be the story, she wanted to tell the story of the least and the left out and of the people and organizations making a difference. Her dreams to tell the untold story, along with her body, were tragically shattered when a depraved young man used her body as a human shield to protect him from a drive-by gunman.
Tears have been shed, hands have been wrung, and teddy bears and flowers have been left at the place where Charnice was slaughtered. A few days from now, someone else will be shot and the crying and handwringing will begin again. So far this year 18 people have been killed in Ward 8, or almost one each week. The tears shed for Charnice are special tears for this amazing young woman, and yet they are the all-too-regular tears for lost life, for names that don’t quite make the news.
Some young leaders will say the right thing, but how many will do the right thing in Washington, DC, in Baltimore (where 43 people were killed so far this year), in Harlem, in Third Ward or Fifth Ward Houston, in St. Louis, and in other places where depraved police officers aren’t the only ones killing young black people. While we can contextualize what is happening in our inner cities, we ought also be able to say, simply, stop the killings.
Thanks to the National Rifle Association, there has been a proliferation of guns in our nation and there are more people than guns in our nation. The NRA resists any legislation to reduce easy access to guns, and offer worn clichés like “guns don’t kill, people do”. Meanwhile, young African Americans are mowed down like bowling pins, and except for the occasional reporting of an exceptional life, those who are killed are also ignored.
It is time for young leaders to take their peers on, to step up and demand that the violence stop. It is time for these leaders to demand that media outlets cover the cumulative loss of life and the individuals who have been killed, without tediously parroting the mindless and non-contextual conversation about black-on-black crime. I write this not as an episodic elder preaching, but as a seasoned warrior asking her esteemed young leaders to take this baton and run with it.