We were up on Franklin Avenue a few weeks ago visiting Bristen’s Café and saw a police sentry tower at the corner and officers mounted on horseback in the street. Looking into why this would be, we found ilovefranklinave.blogspot.com, which reported that this unusual police presence was in response to a number of shootings in the area, including one involving stray bullets that seriously injured one bystander on the phone and could have done the same to anyone walking down the street in the early evening.
On the site, poster Nick writes, “So seriously, what on earth is going on? Who sprays a gun around in broad daylight with a Skywatch visible up the street? More importantly, what do we do to keep people from doing this? I realize I’m a gentrifier and I’ve got a laundry list of various guilt complexes about claiming this neighborhood as my own (though I do, and I’m proud to), but I think avoiding death on your sidewalk transcends social, cultural and economic status. I’ll partner with almost anybody and do almost anything if it will guarantee (hell, statistically reduce the chances) that I’m going to find a stray bullet in my skull.”
Okay Nick, I appreciate and share your concern. Let’s take these one at a time. What is going on here is what happens when a population that is 75-80% unemployed adopts mechanisms for economic survival that are outside of a social contract where their ancestors were included only as chattel. The people spraying the bullets that could kill any one of us, are what happens after several hundred years of living through the terror of the Middle Passage, enslavement, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the thousands of little ways current institutions remember that past and carry on traditions that are rooted in the slavery and oppression necessary to secure white supremacy and now ensures white privilege.
That past, so long ago to some, is ever present in their lives. Pain passed through generations, leaving the human spirit to express itself in ways full of self-hate, having abandoned all hope of a long and happy life and expecting nothing more than to live a destiny as Thomas Hobbs predicted, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
But those are the breaks, no sense crying over spilt milk. Nobody said life was fair. The question here is what to do about stray bullets, as opposed to the bullets that strike for Black-on-Black crime, clearing the area of what is seen as the criminal element.
If you want to help fix this, then the first order of business is to fix that unemployment figure. Demand to know why virtually all of the local construction is being done by immigrant labor and what has to be done so that African-Americans are doing that work. Ask what are the financial and dynamics that allow entrepreneurs from the Middle East to come and open all kinds businesses in the area, but African-Americans struggle to do so and struggle to patronize them.
Mayor Bloomberg says he’s opposed to Community Benefit Agreements where a few community groups “feather their nests.” If the chutzpah of a man worth $16 billion taking adamant offense that unemployed Black men from public housing would try and feather their nests does not stop you dead in your tracks, then you may have a touch of Post-Traumatic White Supremacist Syndrome (PTWSS) and we’ll talk more about that later. On the matter of the CBAs, you should let the Mayor or his successor know that construction in downtown Brooklyn should be required to hire locals first. And there should be partnerships with unions for whatever training is necessary to see that the pipeline of competent African-American workers is filled.
Regarding education, let’s just say straight off the bat that rich white men, however well-meaning, are not the best candidates to control the education and destiny of African-American students. That work is best done by the same African-American professionals and parents who brought the race up out of slavery and, in a segregated environment, gave the world a literate, accomplished and ambitious group of people. The current system with its 50% dropout rate and “teach to the test” demands, is not best-suited to instill critical thinking and self-awareness in young Black people. Young men walking around with their pants below their behinds is a solid indication that something is wrong here.
That something is wrong is further bolstered by the report, “The Right to Education in the Juvenile and Criminal Justice Systems in the United States”, submitted by the Dignity in Schools Campaign to the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education Human Rights Council of the United Nations in December 2008 (www.dignityinschools.org).
They found that, “The inequities and failures of the public education system in the United States impact the growing juvenile and criminal justice system in multiple ways. The school system has become a key entry point into the juvenile justice system through disciplinary policies that mandate school suspension, expulsion and arrest for an increasing array of student behaviors and rule infractions…. Since the 1980s, an increasingly punitive, get-tough approach to prison reform, combined with cuts in state and federal budgets, have led to decreases in spending on prison education programs. For example, in 1994 the U.S. Congress passed a law that prohibits inmates from receiving Pell Grants, thereby cutting funds for postsecondary education in prisons….
The greatest disparities were found among African-American students who made up 17% of the U.S. student population but comprised 37% of students subjected to suspensions and 35% of students subjected to expulsions….
Just as youth of color are disproportionately suspended and expelled, the consequences of dropping out and subsequent incarceration are not race-neutral either. It is estimated, for example, that only 10% of young (age 22-30) white high school dropouts are incarcerated by their early thirties, compared to 52% of African-American male high school dropouts.”
Who would you rather have coming out of the prison, an educated Malcolm X with his life turned around, or someone who can’t earn a living and is angry at his state of affairs, watching you, or me, happy as larks, walking down the street? If it’s Malcolm X you opt for, and I certainly would, then tell your representatives that it’s an emergency that prison education, health and rehabilitation reforms be pushed through.
On the other hand is the other way to try and control the bullets: With more police in towers and cars, on horseback and on foot, stopping, frisking, cuffing and arresting Black men. If this is the option that is appealing not only because of its immediate satisfaction but also because it’s simpler than the alternatives, then this is where the Post-Traumatic White Supremacist Syndrome, the understanding that it is right and proper for white people to control the destiny of Black people or destroy them in the process, is having its way. PTWSS would be the mirror-image of the Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome that Dr. Joy Degruy Leary lectures and writes about. A society that held Africans as slaves for two hundred years has traumatized both the enslaved as well as those who rationalized the slavery and oppression. You might feel guilty about it for a moment, but as you note, you’ll get over it. If not, there is the mantle of the Abolitionists waiting to be taken up. The late Senator Edward Kennedy wore a garment made of that thread. You can too.