ABOVE PHOTO: An anti-gun violence protester chants during a rally at the scene where Hadyia Pendleton was killed Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in Chicago. The mounting homicide toll in President Barack Obama’s hometown is giving ammunition to both sides in the nation’s debate about gun rights and safety. Chicago has some of the toughest gun restrictions in the nation, but the despite that, the relentless shootings have made it Newtown, Conn., in slow motion.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The murder of 15 year old honor student Hadiya Pendleton on Chicago’s South Side drew national attention because she performed at President Obama’s inauguration. Her murder defied the well-worn and infuriating pattern that when a black is gunned down in a poor or any other neighborhood it draws barely a public yawn and scant press mention. Because of the press attention to her murder, the clamor started for Obama to speak out on the carnage in his hometown, and other inner city neighborhoods.
But this is not the first time that some have called for Obama to put White House muscle behind an anti-violence campaign in ghetto neighborhoods, starting with Chicago. That’s the same muscle he’s put behind the gun control fight and his willingness to travel to Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut and express symphony to those who lost loved ones in the mass killings there.
While it’s a commendable and certainly appropriate idea for the President to call for a national anti-violence campaign in black communities, it still begs the question of why so many young black males strap guns to their waists and wantonly kill or are killed by each other. Recent reports on the murder violence show that the murder rate among blacks is seven times greater than among whites.
The disproportionate rate is even more staggering since it comes at a time, despite the heinous, and media sensationalist mass shootings, the overall murder rate has plunged nationally to the lowest since 1961. Even more astounding if the black murder rate was excised from the U.S. murder rate figures, the country’s murder rate would be comparable to the rock bottom murder rate in some European countries.
The hard fact is neither Obama speaking out on the violence, plopping more police on the street, legions more prosecutors, the still pervasive three strikes and mandatory sentencing laws, the death penalty, and putting more than 1 million Blacks behind bars have done little to curb the black-on-black carnage. Nor will simplistic calls for tougher gun control curbs, though they should be made. Chicago has one of the toughest gun control statutes on the books and it didn’t save Pendleton.
Despite the pet theories of liberals and conservatives, Blacks aren’t killing each other because they are violent or crime-prone by nature,or solely because they are poor and oppressed. Or even because they are acting out the obscene and lewd violence they see and hear on TV, films and gangster rap lyrics.
The violence results from a combustible blend of cultural and racial baggage many blacks carry.
In the past, crimes committed by blacks against other blacks were often ignored or lightly punished. Many studies have confirmed that the punishment blacks receive when the victim is white is far more severe than if the victim is black. The implicit message was that black lives are expendable.
This perceived devaluation of black lives by racism has encouraged disrespect for the law, and has forced many blacks to internalize anger and displace aggression onto others.
Many young black males have become especially adept at acting out their frustrations at white society’s denial of their “manhood” by adopting an exaggerated “tough guy” role. They swagger, boast, curse, fight and commit violent, self-destructive acts.
When many black males indulge their murderous impulses on other black males, they are often taking out their pent-up frustrations on those whom they perceive as helpless and hapless. This is a twisted and warped response to racism and deprivation, blocked opportunities, powerlessness and alienation.
The other powerful ingredient in the deadly mix of black-on-black violence is the gang and drug plague. The reported suspects in the murder of Pendleton in Chicago were gang members, and as so many other young blacks in inner city neighborhoods they were just hanging out with seemingly nothing to do and nowhere to go. But with a high probability that drug dealing was their only perceived avenue for getting by. That further fuels the murder plague since innocent victims such as Pendleton are often caught in their shootouts.
President Obama can deplore the violence that claimed the life of Pendleton and so many other young persons in black communities, and he can call for action to damp down the gun violence. But he’s only one voice. It will still take a coordinated effort by educators, health professionals, drug counselors, violence prevention specialists, gang intervention activists, victims of violence and local community activists and leaders, and most importantly parents to stem the violence.
They must devise and coordinate short- and long-term strategies and programs to provide jobs, training, better education, and boost the self-esteem of at-risk young blacks. Public officials must provide the political muscle and resources to implement these programs.
If young whites were killing other whites in the same appalling numbers as blacks, the public and policy makers would declare a national crisis and rush to address it. The murder of Pendleton and the dozens of others in black communities demands the same response.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network, and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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