Saturday, August 11, 2007

Lack of Hope=Urban Genocide

n Camden, N.J., on a Sunday morning in June, a 24-year-old nurse’s aide was killed in a burst of gunfire as she stood talking with a friend on a street corner. She was one of four young people killed in a four-day eruption of violence in Camden.

A teenager who lives in the city tried to explain to me what it was like to have a number of friends or relatives murdered: “You don’t exactly get used to it,” he said, “but you expect it.”

"Philadelphia, across the Delaware River from Camden, is struggling with an even worse problem. As if signaling the start of an accelerated killing season, six people were murdered on the first day of summer. Philly’s homicide rate is on pace to break last year’s tally of 406.

As Senator Barack Obama said during a visit to a Chicago church last month, “From South-Central L.A., to Newark, New Jersey, there’s an epidemic of violence that is sickening the soul of this nation.”

More attention to this crisis of violence is needed, and more police resources, and more jobs, and better schools, and improved prison re-entry programs, and tighter gun controls. But more than anything else, a cultural change is needed.

The communities hardest hit are those in which too many parents have failed their children. The most effective anti-crime effort begins at home with parents (fathers, are you listening?) who raise their kids to know better than to point a gun at another human being and blow that person away for no good reason.

That’s the essential component. Without it, all other crime-fighting efforts are doomed, and thousands upon thousands of poor youngsters will continue to be denied their most basic civil right — the right to grow safely to adulthood."


Fifteen years ago I met a smart, spirited and sort of cute attorney. We were thirty at the time. Through happentance our paths crossed. He had just left the DA's office and was working in a tiny minority firm. Another friend was looking to diversify his Irish, Jewish firm.

The transition to this all white firm was not easy for this gentlemen with the Muslim name. Part of the problem was his world view was different. As a practice he carried a gun. He didn't think twice about it. He wore it as easy as they all wore their Brooks Brothers suits. This was very unnerving for a corporate law firm.

Eventually, the experiment ended and he started his own successful criminal defense firm. On the eve of his firm's anniversary party, we had a reflective conversation. I inquired what do you think happened at the other firm?

He gave me a big smile and said, I really did not expect to make 30 so I never really planned for life once I got there.


I grew up in a community with OLD people. Many of my most powerful life's lessons came from my GREAT Grandparents. They lived across the street from us. They worked everyday, went to church and travelled with us to all of our events. The loved baseball. Both my brothers played and they couldn't wait for the games.

They never quite understood the field hockey I played but they were always there.

It was expected that we went to college. My grandparents saw in us opportunities they could only dream of.

When I entertained "not walking" to pick up my college diploma, my Mom dimed me out to my Grandmother. After work that day, before I got out of my car, my Grandmother summoned me. My mother stood in the doorway smirking.

My grandparents informed me how important the walking across the stage was to them. I was the first person in the family to get a college diploma and it was going to be done right.

It was a very brief directive.

The day of graduation was record cold but we froze our backsides off taking pictures in front of the school signs. My father took pictures until my grandfather told my grandmother it was time to go home. He didn't say much, but when he did, Grandmom relented.

I am so glad I had family to point out positive rituals and accomplishments. They cared enough to fuss at me. The respect was instilled early and often enough that I listened. We expected to work and live in white America. We were taught survival skills with the expectation to get an education, a good job, get married have babies, get a pension, retire, THEN die. In that order....

What we are dealing with is a generation of kids who do not expect to make their next birthday. Unless this generation is taught there is the possiblity of life past 15, the issue will solve itself. They will all be dead or shuttled into the dysfunctional criminal justice system.

The hope must begin at home.

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