Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


Every Murder Matters, Every Life Has a Story Worthy of Telling

In my most recent post, I talked about the tragic death of Hadiya Pendleton. In that piece I acknowledged that this tragedy really affected me... in a very different way compared to many of the murders we read or hear about on an almost daily basis. As I thought about it more, I recalled a piece I read back in January. Colbert King wrote a piece in the Washington Post (1/4/13 - Every Murder Matters), discussing the disparity in coverage of daily murders in the District.

Colbert King analyzed the disparate media coverage of the murders of Angelo Alphonso Payne and Jason Anthony Emma, both men in their 20's who were killed during the holidays. Emma's murder received far more coverage than Payne's. I recall some of that coverage. Every now and then, especially when the victims are white or live in not-so-poor neighborhoods, we learn more about the tragic circumstances surrounding their murder, their grieving families and friends, and the tremendous loss to those who were close to them. More frequently, however, especially when the victims are poor and either Black or Latino, we only read a few lines that include the time of the murder, that there were (usually) no witnesses, and that the police are still looking for clues.

I'm with King on this one:

People’s lives aren’t worthless. Just because they die in a part of town where murders are more frequent, or their slayings aren’t particularly gruesome, doesn’t or shouldn’t mean they count for less. Nor should motive — whatever it may be — render their loss of life meaningless.

I recalled King's piece because that's essentially what happened with Hadiya's murder. We learned far more about this young girl's background in the hours and days following her death than is typically the case. I don't know all the reasons why, although one obvious reason was that she had just returned from performing at the President's inauguration and was killed within a mile of his Chicago home.

Like King, I would think knowing the stories behind the faces and newspaper blurbs is important. People become numb to the stories, especially when they're presented like basic statistics... name, age, location and possibly the circumstances. But everyone belongs to a family, and everyone has a story worth knowing and remembering.

And truth be told, there's a huge backstory to murder in the African American community that remains to be shared in its entirety.

It's not a pretty story for sure, and it's far older than any of these reporters, and the publications they write for.


Youth Violence in America’s Cities… Remembering Chicago’s Hadiya Pendleton

On January 29th, 15-year old Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed in Chicago.  As has been widely reported and discussed, she was killed just days after returning to Chicago from Washington, DC, where she performed in the inaugural parade celebrating President Obama's election to a second term.  As described in all of the reports I've seen and read, Hadiya was a great student, a fun and loving daughter, sister and friend, and an all-around great person.  Similarly, she seems to have made all of the right decisions, remained in all of the right places, with all of the right people, and still fell victim to the senseless violence that pervades our nation's cities.

This young girl's murder struck a nerve in me that was different, in many ways, than the many murders we read about almost every day in this country.  It bothers me to acknowledge this, but it's true.  I feel a sense of pain and loss whenever I hear of these murders of our young children -  especially in and around our major cities, which is where I grew up and have spent much of my adult life.  Helping people to understand and be more responsive to the root causes of this type of violence that pervades our predominantly Black and Brown inner cities and close-in suburbs is a part of the work I do professionally.  But still, what I felt when I heard of Hadiya's murder was different.

I've thought a lot about why this affected me the way it did.  I think it's because the circumstances surrounding this tragedy are very familiar to me.  I grew up in Detroit during the 1970's and 80's.  Detroit was considered the world's murder capital during most of my high school years.  (Interestingly, I moved to Washington, DC just as the nation's capital was taking this not-so-distinguished 'title' from Detroit.  More to say about this, perhaps, some other time.)  Like many people I know and grew up with, my family has been directly impacted by this violence, as have many of my friends and their families over time.  My proximity to and understanding of this violence has greatly shaped my views of this nation's history, of culture, racism (in all of its forms - individual, institutional and structural), politics and the mass media in this country.

Everything I read about this young girl's upbringing reminded me of my own, and that of my closest friends.  My parents, relatives and other extended family were always trying to shield us from the craziness that was happening all around us.  My parents were really close to our friends' families.  We participated in many similar types of say-no-to-drugs and stop-the-violence campaigns and rallies throughout our years of school.  During high school, we took similar leisurely walks away from school grounds after half-days, early dismissals, mid-terms and final exams.  Sometimes these walks led to the movies, sometimes to or through the neighborhood park or playground, or sometimes to one of the nearby restaurants and fast food joints.

And guns were definitely plentiful and easily accessible.  I knew who carried guns and also buy 5.56 ammo online, and I knew who had more experience using them.  They were closer than many of my peers today would imagine.  And they weren't for sport or for hunting - at least not in the sense that America's gun advocates talk about.  I was fortunate in some ways because I was able to steer clear of the more extreme craziness that affected too many of my peers throughout Detroit in the late 80's.

Given my experiences growing up, it bothers me to see some of these people and pundits that talk about these issues with either no reference point for what life is like growing up in our cities, or in some cases trying to pretend like they don't.  And so that brings me to this afternoon's discussion by President Obama concerning gun violence.  I look forward to his remarks, and any ensuing discussion that follows with some of Chicago's youth.  He can't solve this problem alone, but he can do a lot to get more people engaged, and in a more meaningful way, in the types of efforts that will make a difference.  While both types of gun violence are severely problematic and tragic, what happened in Newtown, Connecticut is not the same as what plays out on the Black and Brown streets of America's cities every day.

In the meantime, I wanted to share an emotional discussion that was featured on NPR's Tell Me More with Hadiya Pendleton's mother and some of Chicago's youth.  When I hear her voice, I see so many of the mothers that I have known growing up and now as a father.  I feel the hurt that I observed among my family members, and other friends I have met over the years, who have personally experienced the effects of this senseless gun violence.  When I hear the voices of the youth, I similarly hear and feel - as I did growing up and now as a father - the fear, the anger and the frustration of growing up in a space that others don't see, choose not to see, or even worse, a space that others do see and choose to ignore.