Moderated by Rick Badie
In August, we launched a series regarding black-on-black crime in our communities that we hoped would become an ongoing discussion for our readers. Today, as we present the fourth installment, that initial topic has been broadened to encompass young people of all races and nationalities, as guest columnist Kate Boccia writes today. Meanwhile, Evander Baker offers his perspective on urban crime.
Reach out and help communities
By Kate Boccia
As the mother of an addict son now in prison, I stood alone in my cul-de-sac neighborhood trying to make sense of it all. I felt the urge to scream: “Somebody please help me.” When no one answered, I began to solve the problems myself. This is my journey. This is what I have learned.
The challenges suburban families face are complex and they devastate lives and derail futures. Kids are becoming addicts, being arrested, going to prison and dying from suicide and overdoses.
Recently, Forsyth County held a drug summit with a panel that included former Braves pitcher John Smoltz, judges and a county commissioner among others but, most importantly, the mother of a child who committed suicide because of his heroin addiction and looming prison time. Here’s a haunting statistic: 15 Forsyth County kids have died from overdoses this year. I looked around the room of nearly 500 people and recognized the faces of scared parents. I have begun to realize this story needs to be told, and that the disconnect must stop. I have also begun to realize the African-American community and so-called inner cities have dealt with similar issues for decades. Until the problem hits home, people will pay very little attention. Children are being destroyed in every corner of metro Atlanta.
Thomas Cousins of Purpose Built Communities wrote an article called, “America’s Greatest Untapped Resource.” In it, he explains that the total annual revenue of the U.S. charitable organizations exceeds $1.5 trillion. He says, “We should ask ourselves: Are we achieving a trillion dollars worth of results?” The answer is no. It’s not that small groups aren’t making a difference; it’s that we don’t have a handle on how to utilize these resources to transform struggling communities. And right now, when it comes to our children – rich, poor, black or white – all communities struggle to maintain.
The No. 1 priority is education — not just our our children, but also parents, business and community leaders, churches, local celebrities and athletes about what is happening in our towns. Each community has its own set of problems. Until we address what they are and have town hall forums where people can openly discuss their needs, we cannot possibly solve them.
I am certain we are finally ready to stop hiding behind shame, ignorance and racial discomfort to face this head-on. As a mother who’s been through it, I can tell you it’s going to be a bumpy but necessary ride. Hang on for dear life because that’s exactly what is at stake.
I currently serve on Fulton County Commissioner John Eaves’ Smart Justice Advisory Council, which helps to identify the needs of our communities. I challenge all who read this to reach out to me and find out where you can help at email@example.com.
Kate Boccia lives in Alpharetta.
Knowing is half the battle
By Evander Baker
I’ve been very fortunate and blessed in my life, raised in a close-knit family with a devoted and intelligent father, a cautiously wise mother and an older brother who offered advice and perspective my parents could not. It’s hard for me to fully comprehend what a lot of other young black men experience.
With his constant presence, my father never had to tell me about “keeping my elbows up” or determining ulterior motives of people. He was an example of how to navigate situations and explained why it was paramount that I do likewise.
Despite my white friends’ insistence that my cynicism regarding life isn’t necessary, I find it to be absolutely crucial to living my life as a young, African-American, heterosexual, introverted, articulate, college-educated man.
The collective experiences of young people vary. Science hasn’t gotten the whole transferring-of-consciousness-thing down, so no one can really know what it’s like to live in another person’s shoes.
Even beyond knowing a person’s current circumstances, we need to know what shaped his life before the present predicament. Just as I go through life with the defensive and cautious outlook I inherited from my family, we all approach life based on what we know for ourselves and from our own experiences.
When trying to understand crime for any group of people, one should take into account the subjective experiences that belie those criminal patterns and behavior. Not everyone can be expected to approach morality the same way when morality centers on trying to “make ends meet.” We can certainly think of a few laws that may not even be concerned with issues of morality, but the adherence to such laws may be detrimental to you and your loved ones when more illicit tactics yield needed benefits.
When I think of young, black men who have not experienced the advantages with which I’ve been blessed, it’s easy to understand how quickly and frequently crime can occur. These are risks many black men are inclined to take, not by nature, but through circumstance.
So I don’t really have an answer to crime. In truth, no entity like government will be able to fix criminal behavior without redefining what is “criminal.” Perhaps being able to understand experiences of black guys like (and unlike) myself could be a start. This is something that would take more than a couple courses in the social sciences or African-American studies.
When we try to understand crime committed by young black men, I suggest we try understanding what is valued and what means are available to obtain it. When society considers the context and experiences that often shape their view of the world, we may start to know what needs to be done to make a lasting change in criminal patterns among young, black males.
Knowing is half the battle.
Evander Baker is a research coordinator for the Georgia State University National Safecare Training and Research Center.