There, on the front page was the news I didn’t want to read. Days earlier I had disparaged the editors at the same paper for printing a story that exposed Durham, NC for being in the middle of the state in bank robberies. Since when is being average deserving of headline news? Like so many I know, altering the negative perceptions of our city is on the top of the priority list. I often talk to others about the disparity in how news in Durham is treated in contrast to Raleigh, NC.
I read the story and trembled. Another young black male was killed at the Northgate Mall. The significance for me is related to the place where we worship. We meet in a space in Office Area six at Northgate Mall. Within an hour I would go to the place were a man had been killed, and would face a variety of emotions coming from those who would gather to thank God for another week of life.
Death at the Northgate Mall has become too common. Four people have been killed at the mall since 2002. The stabbing of Kenan Odom, 22, comes just six weeks after his cousin Kordero Odum, 19, was shot dead, amplifying the grief of that family.
The cycle of violence is spreading like wild fire in a community grappling to improve its public image. Most, who live in Durham, would agree things aren’t as bad as they seem. This is juxtaposed against stories of boys and girls gone wild.
Odum had been out on bail on a number of charges, including murder charges for his involvement in two separate shooting deaths in 2005. Xavier Moore, 22 is suspected of killing Odum. He was shot outside a Miami Boulevard Wendy’s restaurant in 2005.
Odum was arrested for being one of the four men present when 18 year-old Sesaley Hunter was shot in the head. In April of that same year, he was charged again with being one of the four present when 17 year-old Kashaun Patterson was shot to death.
The cycle didn’t end there. After being charged with murder twice, he was arrested on drug charges, weapons charges, assault and strangulation charges, but continued to post bail while spending little time in jail.
Odum is an example of why the Durham Roundtable exists. The group, which I am a member, has spent the last few years critiquing the tracking of criminals and the methods used to determine bail. The loop holes within the system make it easy for criminals to get released before the magistrate has a chance to evaluate their previous record, or to consider outstanding warrants.
I would like to think that all our violent crime problems could be solved by making adjustments in the way we process those who commit crimes. As committed as I am to that progression, it has become increasingly clearer to me that there is venom that is destroying the youth of today. At the very core of it all is a spiritual void that leaves many making incredibly poor decisions.
I have seen this up close and personal of late. For some strange reason I have been surrounded by young men and women caught up in the ways of the streets. It becomes hard for them to let go of a life that, in many ways, has molded their perceptions of the world. This has always been a problem for those coming from the streets of America. Keeping it real is correlated with keeping it black, and no one wants to walk away from celebrating their people.
The problem is with a shifting in what it means to be defined by the norms of the streets. Once upon a time it meant affirming the power of a community, and the worth of the elders. It once meant having role models in the hood that would provide encouragement to press beyond the burdens of life in the hood. Sadly, hood life is now celebrated for its destructive ways, versus the hidden gems among the dry bones of the streets.
A hard exterior and mean spirit has become the preferred posture among young people. Exterminating the criminally minded, when taken out of the context of the larger spiritual matter, leaves communities broken more as the ages of those being locked up gets younger and younger and the problems become more difficult to contain. When public policies are made based on outcomes alone, those besieged by deep seeded demons are compromised for the sake of the appearance of making a difference.
I sipped my coffee and began altering my sermon to reflect the stabbing at the mall. I pressed for words to appear on the yellow post-it dangling from my Bible. No words appeared, only tears soaked the pages as years of anguish released a volcanic eruption of sorrow. I prayed through the hurt connected with being kicked out of a church while witnessing death walking in streets like zombies in a Michael Jackson video. I tussled with the emotions cultivated through years of witnessing Holy people playing games with religion as young people marched from the church angered by the irrelevance of these sanctified havens.
I trembled more as the rage mounted up in me. I remembered the murder of Tia Carraway, and my last sermon at the Orange Grove Missionary Baptist Church. It was her eulogy, and I blamed the church for her death. I pointed an angry finger at God’s people for being so stanch in their quest for political correctness, that a generation of hurting people found no comfort in their claims. I remembered Tia and others that had their lives taken violently. No words. Only tears.
I picked up my Bible, headed for the car and drove to the mall to preach. “Pour into the broken a faith in what they can be. In the meantime, Lord, give me the strength to walk a little longer. I need you now more than ever before.”