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Where’s The Indignation For What African Americans Do To Themselves?

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Where’s The Indignation For What African Americans Do To Themselves?

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So where was the march for Tyshawn Lee?

Where were the demonstrators barring access to stores in Chicago’s premiere commercial district on the busiest shopping day of the year? Where was Rev. Jesse Jackson, joining his voice with a thousand other people demanding justice? Where were news media, beaming the images out to the world?

All that and more happened in the name of Laquan McDonald, the 17-year-old African American shot to death last year by a white police officer who claimed the teenager threatened him with a knife. A dashcam video, the release of which the city stonewalled for over a year, contradicts that story. Far from threatening the police, it shows that McDonald was trying to avoid them.

So here is yet another example of the kind of out-of-control policing this country countenances in an injustice system that has all but criminalized African-American existence. And yes, it deserves all the outrage, media attention and civil disobedience it has generated.

But where was that level of engagement for 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee, lured into an alley and executed in the same city a few weeks ago? Where was it for J-Quantae Riles, a 14-year-old boy shot to death a few days later after leaving a barber shop? Where was it for Jonylah Watkins, a 6-month-old baby killed by stray bullets in 2013 as her father was changing her diaper?

The argument is not that no one cared about the killings of those black children, or that no one took action because of them. Yet there is, it seems obvious, a difference both quantitative and qualitative in the African-American response to atrocities inflicted from within and those inflicted from without. And in the news media’s response as well.

It is into that disparity of concern that Spike Lee drops his new movie, Chi-Raq. Based on an ancient Greek play, it is the tale of Lysistrata, a gang leader’s fed-up girlfriend, who leads the women of Chicago in a sex strike. They vow to deny their men their bodies until those men put down their guns and pledge allegiance to peace.

Yes, the movie is as uneven as you’ve heard — by turns, poignant, raunchy, hilarious and incomprehensible. But one thing it is consistently and that is, impassioned. Chi-Raq is an indictment of the forces that have allowed major urban areas to devolve into killing fields where the body count surpasses that of Mideast war zones. It identifies those forces as: the NRA, which contends that the problem with a nation of an estimated 310 million firearms is that we have too few guns; the politicians too gutless to stand up against the gun lobby; a black unemployment rate that is perpetually double the national average, and disinvestment in our cities even as we spend billions to rebuild Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s.

To these culprits, the movie implicitly adds one more: what it sees as an African-American community that tacitly accepts urban murder as almost a natural disaster like an earthquake or heat wave, a thing one can only endure, but never change. As in a scene wherein a distraught mother cries out to passersby to step forward, bear witness to the caught-in-the-crossfire killing of her daughter, and receives in response only silence.

Police malfeasance will probably always monopolize our attention, precisely because it is police malfeasance; something we’ve too often seen go unpunished, unchecked and excused. But Chi-Raq argues that, for all the rage African Americans bear for what others do to us, we need to also spare some indignation for what we are doing to ourselves. Over half the murder victims in this country last year were black, an obscene number that cries out for black people — for all people of conscience — to stand up and give a damn.

After all, those black lives matter, too.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.) (c) 2015 THE MIAMI HERALD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

A demonstrator chants as he marches through the streets during protests in Chicago, November 24, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

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Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

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9 Comments

  1. pisces63 December 9, 2015

    This is a fantastic piece. Thank you. Yet, unless you know the history of this
    country, one could not put it into perspective. Do not get me wrong, PLEASE, I have said the same. Why do black lives matter only when a cop or white person takes it? I believe it to be hypocrisy at its highest. Why don’t you care about that person gunned down in the street? When you have, usually black women, urging their
    kids to not snitch, fight, etc., you have a major problem from the start. Yet, it stems from the history. From the first European on this continent, native lives did not matter. Whole tribes are extinct, suffering privation on reservations. Then we were stolen and brought here. Our lives never mattered from the first day. Black captives were chained and when deemed necessary, they were dumped into the Atlantic chained
    together. Our women were raped at ill. Nothing done. To murder a slave meant nothing. They were property. They were only a N after all. The constitution deemed us less than human and we have been seen that way since. This country did not respect our lives. They never mattered. How can you beat, spit upon, water hose people for peacefully demonstrating? How can you be acquitted from blowing up a church with little girls inside? Why did it take over 30 years to get the murderer of Medgar Evers and the prosecutor
    gets punished for it? How could those
    cowards walk into a black home, take a young boy, beat him to the point he is virtually
    unrecognizable, get away with it and brag to Life magazine? He was only a N!! When the civil right’s workers station wagon
    was found in the swamp, 11 murdered black men’s bodies were found, also. They had been reported missing and nothing
    done. We have been taught well. I remember when we visited my grandparents in
    Louisiana, I would hear them talking, quietly about the state of ‘colored’
    peopleJ!! Well he
    was only a colored person was a ringing statement of how we viewed ourselves,
    just from our treatment in this country.
    It still remains the same. The
    things said about this president would not be said about a white one. The lies told. Hits put out on his family. A white extremist planned a dirty bomb attack
    on the Mall on inauguration day, Jan, 2009 but was thwarted by an angry wife
    who killed him when she caught him molesting their child. FBI later found his manifesto and enough
    bombs to take out thousands. Think of
    how many people were on that Mall that cold day. Just because he was black and won. When people deny this, they also play into
    the we don’t matter schism. To deny the
    obvious is to deny the American view, black lives do not matter. Not since we have no monetary value, that
    is. Even then if one stepped out of
    line. When Interpol and FBI put out the
    startling numbers of white people joining hate groups, this president wanted a
    homeland terrorism law. Boehner said he
    would not make laws against patriots.
    Again, black lives did not matter.

    Reply
    1. TZToronto December 9, 2015

      The idea that a black man cannot be successful as President of the United States is not only something that is assumed by white people in the USA. Before the 2012 election, the current mayor of Toronto, who was then hosting a drive-time radio show, was discussing the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. He stated that Barack Obama was incompetent, as though is was a foregone conclusion, something everyone knew. (There were no examples of this alleged incompetence, just the unfounded assertion.) This was from the man, a wealthy white man, who would become mayor of Toronto (not Rob Ford, John Tory). While now, as mayor of Toronto, John Tory tries to be inclusive in terms of social issues, he said what he said, and I’m sure it was partly due to Barack Obama’s skin color. I’m sure he would (1) deny he ever said it and (2) if he didn’t deny it would say that his opinion was based on President Obama’s policies, not his skin color. It was just the everyone-knows-he’s-incompetent tone that made me mad.

      Reply
    2. ralphkr December 10, 2015

      Great post, Pisces63, except for one glaring error. Your ancestors were not stolen. They were legally purchased from African slave markets to be loaded on ships headed for the New World. Face it, the slave ship masters did not have time to waste attacking villages to capture and enslave free people. There was no need to expend the time & energy when they could purchase their “goods” at the local slave market. Yes, slavery ran rampant in Africa, was controlled by Africans, and exists to this day in some areas (not just in Africa).

      Reply
      1. pisces63 December 11, 2015

        Slavery ran rampant in the world. Ben Hurricane had slaves. Rome, Greece, the Ottoman Empire took young men and made them their fighting elite, Janissaries. Stolen is correct. Our ancestors did not walk to the nearest market and say, I’ll sign up!! They were stolen or spoils of war. Too many tribal narratives speak of how someone just disappeared, not just Kinte. I take the tribal Grioters word for it. Thank you.

        Reply
        1. ralphkr December 11, 2015

          But, pisces63, the slaves were legally bought at legal slave markets by the slave ship masters. They may have been “stolen” by someone in the past to become slaves as spoils of war or they may have been born into slavery but they were legally considered merchandise by the time they reached the markets.

          Reply
          1. pisces63 December 14, 2015

            See above my reply to me in error.

            Reply
        2. pisces63 December 14, 2015

          As far as I am concerned, if it’s wrong from the start it remains so. So what how they got from Pont a to b!! Really? I do not agree with the legality. Maybe because I see it from my side and not pipe dreams. In a court of law, if evidence is not correctly taken under the law and the constitution, it is tainted fruit from the tree and cannot be used in court. That fits your argument. They were stolen for the most part. Women and children. It was wrong on all counts as a Christian country in this business. They made their own children on their slaves and made them slaves also. Was that right, also?? All men are created equal and endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness denied us up to today. We still fight tooth and nail for that and you have the nerve to speak of legality. Marijuana is legal in numerous states but the feds said, no it isnt.

          Reply
  2. Eleanore Whitaker December 9, 2015

    I recently encouraged a brilliant young writer who resides in Chicago to write a book about his living environment in an inner city. Why? Because, just as Studs Terkel had to write the book, “Hard Times” using people to tell their stories of living in the Great Depression, so too is it necessary for young black men and women to write what they know best…life as a minority in an inner city.

    In May 2015, shortly after the state of Georgia passed a law that mandates a gun in every household, 3 Georgia gun smugglers were caught selling guns in heavily minority neighborhoods in NY City. One of these gun smugglers was part of a smuggling ring that got away with selling guns illegally for 17 years. He was the last of the ring to be caught.

    So..why would three white male gun smuggler use minority neighborhoods to illegally sell their guns? Figure it out for yourself. White men hate black men who can’t be enslaved. Why wouldn’t good ole white Georgia boys whose state market for guns has evaporated dare to cross states lines, violate states rights of states who do not want a gun culture and then sell their wares ONLY in minority neighborhoods?

    It is obvious that if you dare to violate a single rebel or corn pone state’s rights, they are up in arms…literally and figuratively. But, they have no problem violating the states’ rights of other states with strict gun control laws.

    So what’s the subliminal message? Get rid of minorities the easy way now that they don’t dare pull off any more KKK style bombings, lynchings and murders. Get minorities to kill each other off. That way, the good ole boys are only guilty of gun smuggling and not murder.

    Reply
  3. Otto Greif December 9, 2015

    “Over half the murder victims in this country last year were black”

    Over half of murderers were black, even though blacks are only 12% of the population.

    Reply

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