As a father and grandfather, I too am saddened by the death of Trayvon Martin, yet another young man’s life cut short by violence. The good news is that the young blacks who are participating in marches for justice following the George Zimmerman court decision are concerned about someone other than themselves. The bad news is that they are misguided by those who lead and organize the marches Their attention is focused on the pursuit of justice for Trayvon Martin and not on the larger problem that other young black males face as they are slaughtered in cities across the nation. They are being told that their biggest threats are external — e.g., private citizens like George Zimmerman and racial profiling by the police.
Let’s examine this from the perspective of people living in high-crime violent neighborhoods. Some years ago the Washington Post ran a story about the Ku Klux Klan coming to Washington to demonstrate at the Capitol. They were confronted by thousands of protesters objecting to their message of hate. The reporter went into Ward 8, the highest-crime neighborhood in Washington at the time, and interviewed an elderly black man who, when asked if he was going to join in the protest against the Klan, said, “Bring the Klan down in my neighborhood if they can get rid of the thugs and drug dealers.” His frustration stemmed from the loss of his neighbor’s son, Bill Griffin.
Griffin, age 26, was ambushed in a drive-by shooting and became one of the hundreds of young black men who were killed in street violence each year in our nation’s capital. Black-on-black murders in Washington, D.C., have become so commonplace that Griffin’s death was newsworthy only because he was the last of his mother’s four children, all of them murdered before the age of 30. The day after Bill Griffin was killed, hundreds of miles away in a Milwaukee neighborhood two young girls, 13-year-old LaWanda Moore and her best friend, 11-year-old Shalanda Young, were playing on the front porch when two cars came roaring down the street filled with young black men with guns blazing away at one another. Stray bullets took LaWanda’s life and left Shalanda in a coma. Before patrol cars arrived at the crime scene, someone picked up the bullet shell casings and threw them into the sewer to prevent the police from gathering evidence to track down the killers. These stories are being retold by the thousands throughout black America.
If the leaders of these marches continue down the path of ignoring the enemy within and directing attention to external causes, they will destroy black America with the helping hand, by ignoring proven solutions to reduce youth violence that are internal to the black community, and by discouraging police from patrolling black neighborhoods, a trend of the past 20 years. Examples abound. Following an incident in Cincinnati in 2001, civil-rights leaders organized a boycott of the city and charged the police with abuse of black youth. As a consequence the police reduced their patrols in black neighborhoods, and arrests declined dramatically, because cops did not want to be accused of racism. During the period of this boycott a total of 74 shootings occurred in black neighborhoods, leaving 86 people wounded or killed, an 800 percent increase over the previous year’s figures, 9 shootings and 11 victims. Police said that they deliberately engaged in “nullification,” or avoidance of black neighborhoods, to reduce their risk of being pilloried as racists.
In Los Angeles twelve years ago, gang activity and violence sharply increased after the dismantling of the police gang unit that was accused of racism. In a similar situation in Prince George’s County, Md., 61 people were killed in the first seven months of that year, compared with only 71 the entire previous year. Carjackings doubled, and robberies rose 37 percent. The county police reportedly were participating in an informant slowdown, staying in their cruisers and responding only to 911 calls. Their reported philosophy: “No contact, no complaints.”
Who bears the cost of police vilification and police nullification? It is not the protest leaders, because it is unlikely that their sons and daughters live in these high-crime communities that are most in need of protection.
If black America continues down this lethal path of self-deception, we are in danger of returning to a practice of the pre-civil-rights South. When the white-controlled criminal-justice system refused to prosecute aggressively blacks who committed crimes against other blacks, but was most severe in punishing blacks who committed crimes against whites, what the civil-rights movement demanded was equal justice before the bar, as it was thought that this unfair application of justice devalued black life.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, and I paraphrase, that the only way a minority can exist and prosper in a majority country is to require and demand moral consistency. To dishonor the justice system by refusing to accept a jury’s decision, and by refusing to insist on equal justice, is to turn back the clock.
— Robert L. Woodson is the founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.