“If people are messing with you, you just kill them. … Shoot them and run, put the gun in a paper bag and drop it somewhere. I would just go home and act like nothing happened.”
That’s from an 8-year-old boy at Baton Rouge’s Park Elementary School that I interviewed more than 20 years ago for a newspaper series called, “Can We Save Our Black Children?” A school counselor was sitting nearby.
I am often drawn to the children I interviewed while doing that series, especially when I think about horrific incidents such as the recent senseless shooting deaths of two Southern University students.
Just to start shooting guns, threatening lives of people seen and unseen, over what? A fight? Hurt feelings?
In those two-decadesold interviews, school counselor Tyrone Allen praised a 9-year-old boy named Mike for walking away from a fight, but Mike became disruptive within minutes.
“For me to tell him to walk away from a fight, in the neighborhood where he lives, is totally foreign — it makes no sense to him,” Allen said.
Now, fast-forward a couple decades, and we have gunplay in my community for reasons that boggle the mind.
Some say racism and poverty are to blame for the rat-tat-tat-tat of gun violence in the black community. Even mentioning “black-on-black” crime is racist. White people kill each other, too, some say. Look folk, if my roof and my neighbor’s roof are leaking, I’m going to get mine repaired no matter what the neighbor decides to do or what he wants to call his leak.
I looked for the Black Lives Matter movement to be all over the recent shooting here, but, alas, they tend to spend their time leaping over the bodies of black youths to hold up signs and to berate political candidates to score media mentions. I mean, what is your plan?
They zoom to the sites of police shootings of black people. I wanted them in the parking lot where the two Southern students were killed. My friend April Guillory and I wanted them in the parking lot where her son was murdered last year.
I hear folks suggesting that “The Man” is to blame for our violence. Hey, “The Man” has been put on trial for decades, and how is that working out?
We watch our children die in the backseats of cars, having fun at parties or just sitting on a porch. Then we try to blame a confluence of evil forces instead of the shooters.
Of course, more opportunities in the inner city would help. The blown-out houses, graffiti-covered buildings and lack of anything to take pride in, along with public schools being systematically put to death in the black community by the school system, and only nodding interest by city government, all are partly to blame.
The argument that businesses and redevelopment opportunities don’t come to high-crime areas does have some truth. When you think about it, how many black entrepreneurs have launched businesses in the inner city? Not many.
But that does not mean wise men and women can’t develop ways to bring about changes.
For the 300th time, yes, we need to get together again, but there needs to be real plans and action taken. We need parental education, investment in more counseling of children and more churches opened in the evenings with nurturing programs for our black youth. We need to do something.
Too often, we generally gather somewhere, write stuff on big charts, pack the stuff away and nothing happens. And someone needs to tell the power brokers that violence is mobile. It’s incumbent on all of us to do something.
There is a mayor’s race going on right now in Baton Rouge. If none of our politicians have a serious, well-thought-out plan of action, then you determine if that person is deserving of your vote.
The late attorney Edselle Cunningham spoke volumes when he said in the “Can We Save Our Black Children?” series: “Some (black) leaders say it’s the government and racism that has caused our problems. I’ve seen the enemy, and he is us. The government can’t break the cycle for us. Only we can do that.”
Edward Pratt, a south Louisiana freelance writer, can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.