A couple weeks ago, I was looking at one of those annual stories in this newspaper about the number of murders committed in East Baton Rouge Parish. The total, 63, was not a record, so the headline was somewhat tame.
There have been years when the good folks of EBR were a lot more inclined to do away with considerably more of their neighbors, friends, family members or people they had just met. The result would be screaming headlines marking record body counts.
When Baton Rouge’s 2014 numbers are stacked against the 150 murder victims in nearby New Orleans, ours pale by comparison.
By the way, the New Orleans total is a 4 percent reduction from the prior year. That’s good. According to the newspaper account of the murders in Baton Rouge, no arrests or charges have been filed in nearly half of the cases. That’s bad.
But there is something else in the story. The photos have been the same ever since this paper began collecting the snapshots of the murder victims — virtually all of them are of African-Americans.
The numbers of the black dead, usually killed by other black people, need to draw more attention than they do. I know that your eyes are rolling now, because this is a familiar refrain of mine. Well, I don’t plan to stop.
In reality, there are conversations in the black community about this horror. People talk about it at the barbershop and in other small groups, and sometimes, there is an anti-violence march when there is an incredibly senseless murder of a child. But generally, the outrage is extinguished in a day or two.
Late last year, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani offered up some stinging comments about black-on-black crime. His remarks came during public protests after a grand jury there failed to indict a white police officer after he was recorded using an illegal chokehold that contributed to the death of an unarmed black man.
“I find it very disappointing that you’re not talking abut the fact that 93 percent of blacks (killed) in America are killed by other blacks,” Guiliani said, adding later, “The white police officers wouldn’t be there (in black communities) if you weren’t killing each other.”
Those comments, as expected, caused anger in parts of African-American community. But admittedly, I have been saying the same thing for a while about the concern regarding black violence against black people.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer for The Atlantic magazine, challenged my way of thinking, saying the greater outrage by African-Americans is understandable when police are involved in the killing of black people.
“To the extent that killings by the police generate more outrage, it is completely understandable. Police in America are granted wide range of powers by the state including lethal force. With that power comes a special place of honor. When cops are killed, the outrage is always different than when citizens are killed. Likewise when cops kill under questionable terms, more scrutiny follows directly from the logic of citizenship.”
That’s beautiful and well-taken prose, but I think it is dismissive of the more serious problems witnessed daily by black parents afraid to allow their children to go the park, to school dances or to the store around the corner
As numbers of young African-Americans continue to be killed over $5 and $10 or for “disrespecting” someone, I want the outrage to be focused on neighborhoods of my hometown.
While saying that, I am fully aware of the danger that is brought to bear on African-Americans, especially black males, by some wayward officers of the law. Yes, I am fearful and angry.
But, after looking at all those newspaper photographs of dead African-Americans looking back at me, I want something done to rid my community of the scourge that causes people who look like me to devalue their lives and mine.
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.