Surge in Youth Violence is a Wake Up Call, Maybe
Â Hopefully, the savage killing of 16-year-old Derrion Albert in Chicago will galvanize sustained protest, not only to his death, but the surge in Black youth violence throughout the nation. The graphic, disturbing video seen throughout the world captured the brutal murder and momentarily, at least, heightened public interest and horror.
Thus far, the pattern is familiar: After an initial rush of publicity and expressions of outrage, it’s business as usual. Official responses address suppression and intervention, not prevention. In other words, the underlying factors usually receive only lip service while the primary emphasis remains on control and suppression. (Intervention, while extremely important, is by definition, after the fact. And despite heroic work by some gang interventionists, for example, systemic and political obstacles regularly trump efforts to deal with the underlying causes of violent, dysfunctional behavior.)
Predictably, high profile Black leaders nationwide deplored and denounced Derrion Albert’s unspeakably horrific killing. Although the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Nation of Islam’s Minister Louis Farrakhan immediately urged an end to youth violence, the significance of theirs’ and Black leadership response generally, awaits the actual follow-up.
Derrion, an honors student, caught between two rival groups, was beaten, stomped and left to die. Apparently, there was no attempt to stop the attack that was witnessed by many. It was a chilling example of a widespread callousness among Black youth; for many, violence is endemic, a part of everyday life.
Rev. Al Sharpton notes that watching the video would make anyone shudder at the large number of young people involved, the extent of violence “……and the complete lack of respect for humanity on display.” He feels that because the incident was caught on tape, the media and others that might normally turn a blind eye had no choice but to take note.
Sharpton also points out that in addition to Derrion’s violent death, over 30 Chicago students lost their lives in 2008 alone. (Similar statistics apply to Los Angeles and other cities.) Tragically, families, friends and associates of Black youth and adults are gathering to mourn the loss of loved ones at vigils and funerals that are, themselves, occasional targets of wanton violence.
The litany of underlined factors causing widespread violence among both young Black males and adults is all too familiar. It includes the breakdown of family structure, high poverty and incarceration rates and failing schools-combined, all guaranteed to lead to violence.
Easy access to firearms, an environment of crime, lack of opportunity and glorification of negativity (Sharpton’s words) contribute to a stultifying cycle of disfunctionality and criminal behavior that must be acknowledged and accorded proper weight in developing sustainable solutions.
Less than a month ago in “Black on Black Violence Now a Horrific Norm,” this column again addressed these same issues. The column focused on antecedents such as racism and psychological and social conditioning, as well as other barriers to reducing violence. These include negative mindsets of Blacks themselves and a growing chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks making both the struggle and solutions immeasurably more difficult.
Any assessment of youth violence must take into account the role of parents and family in children’s lives. Most parents love and care about their kids, but there’s little question that poverty-and its many oppressive correlates- contribute to the despair and lack of hope that often leads to parents’ dysfunctional and neglectful behavior. Absent positive, constant intervention, including concrete resources, the cycle of dysfunctionality and violence will continue unabated.
Solutions begin with honest assessment of both causal and current negative factors. Equally important is the political will of decision-makers and the motivation and perseverance of stakeholders themselves for actual change. Solutions require the oft-cited need for top-to-bottom accountability, i.e., from highest level decision-makers, such as elected and public officials to parents, local communities and Black youth themselves.
Best practices for reducing violence among Black youth and Black-on-Black violence, in general, are slight. What is obviously necessary, however, is a national dialogue starting at the local level. Some models are emerging that focus on young Black males and this is encouraging. Of course, there must also be a concerted focus on causal factors as previously discussed; usually, such factors are either minimized or ignored.
We must all capitalize, not recoil from the challenge of the violence and savagery embodied in Derrion Albert’s and too many other similar atrocities. Children are not inherently violent, but for poor Black youth, their environment is. Concerted, collaborative action by all who share responsibility for changing that environment should not be considered a choice, but an imperative.