Commentary

Where is the outraged sense of self-preservation when we are under attack by our own? | Column

June 1, 2021 7:30 am

Former Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, who lost his sister to gun violence. Photo courtesy of Senate Media Services.

The protests we’ve seen against police, i.e., occupying storm troopers, are an understandable, even obligatory response of Black people, borne of self-preservation. 

But also I’m sorry to say it’s open to question how much Black lives indeed matter to Black communities.

Where is the outraged sense of self-preservation when we are under attack by our own, as we have been for years in a veritable cancer destructively crippling our communities? 

George Floyd, this era’s Rodney King, prompted a coast-to-coast reckoning that lasted from May 2020 until Derek Chauvin’s recent conviction, and hopefully beyond. We have yet to see such a committed crusade supporting victims of — and determination to end — Black violence against our own.

We are discouraged from talking about “Black-on-Black crime,” which will yield howls of protest and condemnations of racism. It wasn’t always thus: A special 1979 issue of Ebony Magazine said bluntly, “Black on black crime has reached a critical level.” More Black Americans were murdered in their own communities in 1977 than the upwards of 7,000 who died in the Vietnam War, Ebony reported at the time. 

The 1980s gave us the advent of gangs trafficking in crack. By 1993, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was saying “Violent crime is tearing us apart. It seems to have had an even worse effect on young African-American males.”

A problem with this toxic debate is that everyone assumes that if we talk about violence in Black communities, we are laying blame there. 

In that special issue, however, Ebony goes on to assert, “Such underlying causes of crime as racism and oppression manifest in high unemployment rates, drug addiction, the breakdown of the urban family and an unjust criminal justice system [whereby] the prison system serves as a training ground for further crime.”

More recently, scholars like Elliott Currie have shown the structural, systemic, economic and racist roots of violence in Black communities.  

None of that matters to Twin Cities families of 6-year old Aniya Allen, or 9-year old Trinity Ottoson-Smith, who died over the weekend after being shot while jumping on a trampoline two weeks before. Or, for that matter, tell it to the loved ones of Nia Black, 23, an Aveda School graduate whose Brooklyn Black LLC, helped fledgling entrepreneurs gain their footing and get off to a good start. Killed in June 2020. 

As ever before, people are trying. Al Flowers of the Minnesota Safe Streets coalition created the Tarvanisha B. Boyd Be Better Foundation in 2019, following the shooting death of his 24-year-old daughter Tarvanisha Boyd during an argument in her Georgia home. 

Then-Minnesota state Sen. Jeff Hayden, whose own 25-year-old sister was shot dead by crossfire between rival street gangs, was keynote speaker for the launch event at Sabathani Community Center. Cindy Booker, Sabathani president at the time, donated the space, her father having lost his life to violence. 

Barely a hundred people attended, most of them friends and family of the organizers. Hayden’s comments were crushing: “If this was a case of police shooting someone, the place would be packed, the media would be here. When it’s us who kills us, somehow that doesn’t rise to the level of us caring about us.”

Much as society is responsible for Black folk having it hard, we are nonetheless accountable for our behavior. At the very least, it’s our duty to raise as much hell over our own people savaging our communities as we do over police misconduct. The complacency is unconscionable.

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