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It’s on us to end black-on-black crime, hopelessness

Every day brings more tragic mayhem in black communities across America. Chicago is the worst example, with dozens of innocent men, women and children murdered almost every weekend. Few of these crimes are solved — Chicago’s “clearance rate” for homicides is 17 percent — leaving the culprits free to strike again. Most crimes involve black victims and perpetrators. The grim statistics are not in dispute. What is in dispute is why this travesty continues, and how to stop it.

The usual explanations include the impacts of poverty, institutionalized racism and flawed policing. Any effort to put on the table the moral and cultural dysfunctions afflicting the inner cities is condemned as blaming of the victims. When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel last month raised the lack of “a value system and a moral compass”in black communities, he was pilloried.  The Rev. Jasper Williams Jr.’s funeral eulogy for Aretha Franklin, which emphasized the need for moral and spiritual renewal, came in for even harsher criticism.

{mosads}Meanwhile, the “2018 State of Black America Townhall,” produced by TV One and the National Urban League in May, covered many topics — employment, income, housing, education, health, social justice and civic engagement — but, predictably, said nothing about values or personal responsibility. The Chicago Tribune’s recent editorial, “Why Chicago Violent Crimes Go Unsolved,” likewise did not.

But ascribing all of the weight to economic and structural problems and assigning to the government the primary responsibility for curing them is both analytically false and certain to fail. The inner cities have been the victim of government-driven economic and social engineering for decades and things have gotten worse, not better.   

Based upon my personal experience, I believe the primary responsibility for the inner-city crime wave rests with numerous dysfunctional social and cultural trends within the black community itself.  And these trends are reinforced by the palpable failures of black leadership.  

The negative effects of the demise of the black nuclear family were highlighted as long ago as the 1965 Moynihan Report. While many single-parent households are nurturing and loving environments, and provide children the tools to succeed in society, many more tragically fail. When I spoke with teens after the 2015 Freddie Gray riots in Baltimore, I found a majority never had positive male influence; they felt neglected and helpless. Committing crimes was okay with them. Surviving was their only concern; it didn’t matter who they hurt.

Incredible levels of anger and hostility, particularly among many black men, are coupled with misogyny, celebration of drug use and prison culture, undue veneration of machismo and violent music. Many young people care little about health or nutrition, do not embrace individual responsibility, and have low self-esteem. Disregard for authority induces some black men to act in ways that escalate even the most routine police encounters. It’s the key factor in many police shootings. Many teenagers show total disdain for human life, whether one’s own or of their fellow humans.

This is all profoundly depressing, but not hopeless. These problems are eminently susceptible to community-driven remedies, curable by steady, one-on-one work with teenagers and young men, coupled with morality-promoting efforts by the institutions that shape and drive popular culture.

In the 1980s, as a young black male living in Los Angeles, I belonged to a gang, wore its colors, and protected its turf. So many of my friends were getting killed that I attended funerals weekly. It became devastating. Now, when I hear some people say that once a person joins a gang, they can’t get out, I know it’s not true — it can be done.

I have tried to give back to my community as a counselor of teens and young men in several U.S. cities. The dysfunctional social and cultural norms are the biggest problems to tackle. Machismo can be transformed into a positive sense of pride in one’s body, reinforced through healthy nutrition and exercise. The sense of hopelessness, animated by attendance at funerals of one’s relatives and friends, can be transmuted into a sense of anger and “enough is enough” sentiment to take responsibility for one’s destiny.  

Based upon my discussions with D.C. public school teachers and their peers in other cities, I am convinced that improper dress, particularly showing off one’s underwear, is more than just a wrong aesthetic choice; it manifests a lack of self-respect. If we disrespect ourselves, we cannot gain the respect of others.

But none of this would work without a major effort by the black leadership to abandon the blame game and dedicate themselves to helping their communities. Having community leaders live in the inner cities, rather than the suburbs, would be a good start. Trust in police would be enhanced if they lived amongst the people they protect. Black pastors would be more effective if they lived among their parishioners and expanded their churches’ outreach to young males on the streets. 

Good black leadership also means not participating in destructive aspects of our culture. For example, black leaders, actors, rappers, athletes and politicians should never countenance the use of the “N” word, particularly in public settings — and that would include former President Obama singing happily along to an N-laced song, as he did at a Jay-Z concert in July in Washington, D.C.  

We also urgently need a type of Marshall Plan directed at the inner cities and driven primarily by ourselves. The best-educated black professionals should take one or two years to help their brothers and sisters, living and working in inner cities. Black businessmen, athletes and entertainers should commit to investing considerable resources into the development of these neighborhoods.  

Greg Raleigh works with the American Bar Association’s Commission on Youth at Risk, is director of Food for Fuel and is fitness director of the University Club in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the Washington Mayor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Nutrition and is a youth counselor and motivational speaker.

Tags Adolescence Crime inner cities masculinity

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