Ever since I read the news article, “Leaders seeking ways to save Savannah’s black young males” (12/27/14, Savannah Morning News, by Jan Skutch) I’ve been pondering some troubling questions about violence in our communities. What can I do to reduce the numbers of black male homicides, and the high rates of black male incarceration? And do these killings signal much deeper problems about a lack of empathy among the shooters and their victims; do they actually value life less?
As a Rochester native, I am all too familiar with homicide headlines and newscasts regularly featuring black men and boys killed on a daily basis. Rochester had 36 homicides in 2014 — that’s three per month on average. Nearly all of the homicides occurred in predominantly black neighborhoods. As a new resident of Savannah, I’m seeing the same stories–and media treatment– describing the violence and these are mirrored in numerous other cities throughout the country. Savannah is not alone in facing what feels like out-of-control violence among young black men.
Fortunately, Rochester and Savannah have some programs (preventive and rehabilitative) that seek to address some of the unique challenges faced by black boys and men. Here, we have the Chatham Apprentice Program, Young Men of Honor and Savannah Impact Program. Rochester has programs such as the Judicial Process Commission, the Safer Monroe Area Reentry Team and Vertus Charter School. These programs address post incarceration, limited and/or inadequate education, unemployment and behavioral change.
Clearly, our communities are trying but the crime numbers don’t seem to reflect our efforts. Unfortunately, there is a
disconnect between our efforts and effective solutions– or we’re not getting to enough young men in the most meaningful ways. Of course, we must remember statistics contain biases but still the numbers can be discouraging, to say the least. I am glad to know that communities are supporting programs and efforts to address the issue. I am anxious to help but still feel lost as to how I can be effective. In Rochester, I volunteered at a family shelter, helped host the Black History Month Celebration at the local museum, visited a youth shelter and cooked Christmas dinner at women’s shelter. I am always humbled to volunteer my time but I wonder if that really has an impact. I feel as if I am not doing enough. Perhaps it’s a question of quality vs. quantity. Is it more important to reach many or to have a deeper impact on fewer people? I am eager to find a niche to help address violent crime in the black community.
I repeatedly go back to the question, does violent crime reflect a lack of value for life? I cannot imagine killing someone other than as self-defense or in defense of loved one. However, my world view is vastly different than those of the young men who are perpetrators of violent crimes, particularly homicide. The ease with which it appears some are able to pull the trigger of a gun may speak to a lack of value placed on their own lives, or certainly on the lives of their victims. Is this a root cause of the gun violence we’re seeing of late? I don’t know but I believe violence is a learned behavior, and it can be reversed. The “live by the gun, die by the gun” mentality seems to have engulfed some youth in our cities. But still, as Mayor Pro-tem Van R. Johnson, said, “Black lives matter regardless of who takes their lives.”