Police killing unarmed young Black men occasionally captures national attention. 18-year-old Michael Brown’s tragic killing in Ferguson, Missouri was an exception. But as we have seen, other killings by cops of unarmed Black youth continue. And with the exception of Black Lives Matter, the Black community’s outrage has been temporary, not sustained. Other more publicized victims include: Oscar Grant, Oakland, CA, Eric Garner, New York and Ezell Ford in Los Angeles- killed a few days after Michael Brown. (Sadly, publicized and unpublicized lists of killings by the police seem endless.)
Occasionally, this space features kindred voices like New York writer Bob Herbert, whose column, “Too Long Ignored,” (2010) addresses factors that underscore the many injustices facing Blacks in America. The column follows in its entirety:
“A tragic crisis of enormous magnitude is facing Black boys and men in America. Parental neglect, racial discrimination and an orgy of self-destructive behavior have left an extraordinary portion of the Black male population, especially, in an ever-deepening pit of social and economic degradation.
The Schott Foundation for Public Education indicates the high school graduation rate for Black males in major urban areas (2008) was an abysmal 47%. The astronomical jobless rates for Black men in inner-city neighborhoods are both mind-boggling and heartbreaking. In many areas, virtually no one has a legitimate job. More than 70% of Black children are born to unwed mothers and community leaders in poor areas report moms are absent, for one reason or another, and the children are being raised by a grandparent or some other relative, or they end up in foster care. (No appreciable change, nine years later.)
That the Black community has not been mobilized sufficiently to turn this crisis around is shameful. Black men, according to the Bureau of Justice statistics, have nearly a one-third chance of being incarcerated in some point in their lives. By the time they reach their mid-thirties, a solid majority of Black men without a high school diploma has spent time in prison. And homicide is the leading cause of death for young Black men, with the murderous wounds in many cases inflicted by other young Black men or police.
This is a cancer that has been allowed to metastasize for decades. Not only is it not being treated, most people don’t even want to talk about it. In virtually every facet of life in the United States, Black people, and especially Black boys and men, are coming up short. White families are typically five times as wealthy as Black families and more than a third of all Black children are growing up in poverty.
There are myriad reasons for this sad state of affairs. As with so many other problems in American society, a lack of gainful employment has been a huge contributor to the problems faced by Blacks. Chronic unemployment is hardly a plus factor for a successful marriage or family stability. And the absence of stable family units with strong parental guidance is at the root of the chaotic environment that so many Black youngsters face every day.
The abominable incarceration rates among Blacks are largely the result of mass incarceration and a criminal justice a criminal justice system that is racially discriminatory and out of control. Both of these factors need to be engaged head-on and both will require a staggeringly heavy lift. Education in the broadest sense, is the key to stopping this socioeconomic slide that is taking such a horrific toll in the Black community. People have to understand what is happening to them before they can really do much about it.
The aspect of this crisis that is probably most important and simultaneously, the most difficult to recognize, is that the heroic efforts needed to alleviate it will not come from the government or the wider (white) American society. This is a job that will require a campaign on the scale of the civil rights movement and will have to be initiated by the Black community itself. Whether this seems fair, or not, is irrelevant. There is very little sentiment in the wider population for tackling the extensive problems faced by poor and poorly educated Black Americans. What is needed is a dramatic mobilization of the Black community to demand justice on a wide front that includes employment, education and the criminal justice system—while establishing a new set of norms and higher standards for Blacks to live by.
For lack people this is virtually a fight for survival, and it is an awesomely difficult fight. However, not to wage continuous battle against injustice in any form is to be complicit in perpetuating it, mainly through a collective silence. The terrible inequities that have plagued so many Black families and communities throughout America and the premature and often violent deaths at the hand of the police, the inadequate preparation for an increasingly competitive workplace, the widespread failure to ensure and celebrate one’s intellectual capacity and the insecurity that has become ingrained from being so long at the bottom of everything good, all contribute to a dysfunctional and devastating norm.
Terrible de-humanizing injustices have been visited on Black people in the United States, but there is never a good reason to collaborate in one’s own destruction. Blacks in America have a long and proud history of overcoming hardship and injustice. It is past time we emulate that pride with strength and determination.