Monday, February 11, 2013

Responding to the death of a 15-year-old

I had to wait three days before I could answer the question.  “It's long past time to stop the senseless slaughter of our children!” my friend Pam Hall Purifoy posted on my Facebook wall.  “How do we begin to stop the violence?”

The question was accompanied with a link to a story about the funeral of 15-yeard-old Hadiya Pendenton. Pendleton was shot and killed on Jan. 29 about a mile from President Barack Obama’s Chicago home.  It happened a few days after she participated in the President inauguration as a band majorette. 

Pendenton’s dream of going to college was taken from her by gang members fighting over things that people like me will never understand.  She’s the last of 43 people killed in Chicago in January.  Last year the city topped 500 murders. Everyone is wondering why?  Everyone wants to know the solution to the problem.

Fourteen of the victims were 20 years-old or younger.  The youngest victim was 2 years-old.  The cross-fire of death is taking the lives of those too young to understand why it’s happening.  Purifoy’s question has been asked many times.  In Durham, NC, thousands marched to Few Gardens in 1994 to protest the murder of two-year-old Shaquana Atwater – the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 “I wish there were an easy answer but it goes beyond simple socioeconomic responses,” Ronal d White responded to Purifoy’s question.  “This thing is very deep! Black men (as a whole and down through generations) have carried a sense 'self-hate' and rejection. I could write a thesis on this one. Again, no easy answer. We need God!”

White’s response read like a community confession.  Something is wrong within the black community.  Something deep, perplexing and distressing is eating at the soul in places packed with black bodies.  What went wrong?  What can be done to stop it?

“We, as a culture, have a war mentality that's hard to break,” Cash Michaels, a popular journalist at The Carolinian offered. “We give our kids toy guns and GI Joe, sit them in front of violent TV shows and video games for hours, and then wonder why a 14 years-old boy just beat his seven-month-old sister to death! This story horrifies me, as it should all of us!”

The answers kept coming.  I read each with a booming Amen followed by rapid nods of the head.

“I dislike saying this but, our problem is with our identity. We see ourselves as broke, unhealthy, and not deserving the best,” Ernest H. Johnson states. We see ourselves through the minds of slaves rather than our true identity. Until this is repaired, and our Black colleges don't have the economic or faculty power to deal with this misfortune, then we will continue act like brainwashed giants.”

I prepared a message to add to the chat on Facebook.  My attention was diverted by the headlines from the local newspaper positioned on the table next to my cup of coffee and the poetry of Kahlil Gibran.

“A man was shot to death near a crowded mall Saturday afternoon and left in a parking lot as the shooter or shooters left in getaway Jeep that crashed into two other vehicles,” the article in the Durham Herald-Sun read. “The victim was identified as Brian Christopher Keys, 24, of Greensboro.”

“Investigators charged the three occupants of the Jeep Liberty – Monquell Davis, 19, of Lutz Lane; Deshario Mitchell, 18, of Marne Avenue; and Kadeem Johnson, 18, of Umstead Street with murder.”

Three more charged with murder- each under the age of 20. Another black man killed.  Four more families fastened to a system known for burying black boys and locking others in rooms with no promise of freedom.

Is this the meaning of let freedom ring?  Is this why Harriet Tubman went back to get more? 

 “Be not discouraged. There is a future for you. . . . The resistance encountered now predicates hope. . . . Only as we rise . . . do we encounter opposition,” Did Frederick Douglass say that for this?  Is this the reason behind the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for freedom?

Did Rosa Parks sit for this? Is this the reason behind the deaths of Malcolm and Martin?  Was the fight for freedom to grant young thugs the right to bear arms and take life?  Is this the dream of those who fought for America’s freedom when those back home fought to keep them in their proper place?

I have no answer Ms. Purifoy.  What I have is a statement.  This is a disgrace in the face of our history.  I spew shame to those who bring indignity to our ancestors.  I beg them to learn their own history.  Our ancestors are watching.

 I’m tired of making excuses for you.  I will no longer blame the absence of a father in your home.  I’m tired of lifting the defense of poor economic upbringing.  I’m sick of apologizing for actions that you refuse to be accountable for on your own. 

Do you care that so many care about you? Have you noticed us fighting for your judicial rights?  Have you seen us rebelling against the stigma that keeps you from getting work once you leave prison?  You make the rest of us look bad.  We’re judged because of you, and you lack the respect to acknowledge our hard work in preventing others from giving up on you.

You have taken this too far.  You are killing our children.  I no longer feel sorry for you.  Grow up.  It’s not your daddy’s fault.  Your mother has cried too much over you.  I’ve seen her in church begging God to deliver you from the demons in the streets.  You think your manhood is tied to your fist, gun and stare.  You’re not a man.  You’re a child with a gun.

I wash my hands from you.  I’ll be waiting when you come to your senses.  That’s what love is about.  Until then, get out of my face.  Play your games somewhere else.

I hope that answers your question.


  1. Your answer is not an answer. Rev. Carl. These non-men kids with guns need examples of what being a man is, and that example can't come for other kids in their gangs.

    They've been virtually abandoned and need real men to mentor them, to save them, one or two at a time. Don't look for social services for help, look for real men to reach out and lead.

    1. The real men have been leading. We have mentored, tutored, advocated, held hands, prayed, given money, showed about, cried, listened and kept coming back when our efforts left us disappointed. My response is an answer. Instead of making excuses and placing blame on black men for not leading, the black church for not being present and the death of the family - lets place the blame where it belongs. The shift within the culture begins with calling this activity out for being contrary to our expectations. Tell them we are tired. Tell them to fight for themselves. Tell them what mothers have told sons after they keep doing wrong - I love you, but!