My sons and violence against black males

written by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Lis Dwyer; originally published at Los Angelista’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness

Earlier tonight I was talking with someone about the murder of Chicago teenager Derrion Albert.

It’s been a week since his murder and I still refuse to watch the video of it. — It’s not a made-up episode of The Hills or Real Housewives of Atlanta. It’s true reality, a real teenager being murdered. No reason for me to watch what’s essentially a snuff video.

Yes, I know, people who watched helped identify the assailants. But I wasn’t there. I’m not going to be able to identify anybody. Therefore, I have no reason to watch aside from sheer voyeurism.

The first time I read about the murder, I immediately thought about what I would do if something like this happened to one of my own sons. Such thoughts really scare me.

That’s because even though my boys live in a completely different city, in a completely different set of circumstances, what happened to Derrion Albert doesn’t feel so far away. The violence against a young black male doesn’t feel so far away.

As my sons get older, I feel more afraid. They are closer to being teenagers. Closer to being targeted by both cops and gangs. Targeted by peers who want to prove they’re “somebody” in a society that has taught them they’re nothing but thugs.

I’m not being paranoid.

Violence against minority school-age children in general has seriously plagued Chicago this year. Derrion’s murder is the 36th murder of a child or teen in the city this year, and I really wonder, as Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan wondered two years ago, what would happen if 36 kids in Chicago’s wealthy suburbs got murdered?

And what about Los Angeles?

“Los Angeles, California, notorious for its gang problems, is larger than Chicago. It has reported only 23 child slayings this school year.”
Is there such a thing as “only” 23? What would happen if 23 kids in Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades or Brentwood got murdered? We can’t even imagine that, can we?

So will this be the straw that breaks the back of indifference to these crimes against children of color? My immediate response is a cynical one: No.

The conversation is already going through that revolving door where the blame falls on black people, particularly lower income black people, as if they single-handedly created the pathologies that are at work in their communities.

Honestly, I don’t want to read not one more blog post or Bill Cosby missive about how this is all the fault of promiscuous black single mothers and absent black fathers. It’s deeper than that, and it’s deeper than it being the fault of the generic “white man” too.

It feels, as Malcolm X said, like the chickens coming home to roost. As a society, we have chosen to not uphold desegregation laws. We have chosen to allow low income children of color to receive a substandard education, simply because they live in a different zip code. We have chosen to not pay a living wage so that people can actually have the means to pursue life, liberty and happiness, so they can move out of dangerous neighborhoods if they see fit. And we have chosen to allow gangs and narcotic trafficking to run rampant, as long as it stays controlled on the “bad” side of town.

As for having some sort of moral or spiritual “center” where today’s teens know not to beat one of their peers to death, that sort of center doesn’t just fall out of the sky and infect kids like Swine Flu. Yes, children and teens should know better, but we live in a do-whatever-you-wanna-do culture. Self-control is in no way a part of our world these days.

I’m not saying this to excuse what these teenagers did. But hello, didn’t you read Lord of the Flies as part of your education?

Speaking of education, almost every article I’ve read has referenced Derrion being an honor student. Yes, he was, but that’s not the main reason his murder is such a horrible thing. His grades are not the only reason his life had any worth. Even if Derrion got straight F’s his murder would still be an absolute travesty.

I have more questions than answers in this situation. And I come back to my own two sons. How would I feel if that was one of my own boys? Devastated. Unable to function.

I don’t want to think about it. If I think about it too much, I’m going to pack my boys off to the middle of Montana where their only contact is a fictional swan with a trumpet.

I’ll die before I let my sons be another statistic.

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek,, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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