Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The "Silver Lining" of Newark and Black/Latino Conflict

If I believe the papers, the murders last week of three promising Black youths in Newark (and the attempted murder of a 4th) have come with a silver lining:  the community of Newark is, at least for now, united, various factions all setting aside the political differences with everyone from Mayor Cory Booker - who is facing a recall effort from disillusioned constituents.  To reports of arch-rival gang members agreeing to (at least for now) lay down their weapons.  All have come together, apparently, in grief and commitment to Do Better, going forward.

Glad tidings at one important level.

Yet I am torn.  I am torn because of the mixed messages about the value of our people, our youth, depending on whether they are seen as "doing the right thing" or "being a bad seed". 

On the one hand, it seems clear that the members of the Newark community have been "shocked" into the welcome understanding that, despite their differences, they are a community.  Thus, when violence comes after one, it comes after all.  The attack is on everyone.

On the other hand, I grieve -- I cringe -- reading that somehow, overnight, that with the murders of these college-bound children, the Newark community has found unity that only days ago it utterly lacked.

IMO, that sense of community should not be affected by the fact that the attack was on "the best and brightest", especially when the victims are the youth.  Or -- and this is the part about which I know reasonable minds will disagree -- even when the perpetrators are. 

Perhaps some of that unity would have been well-spent on the children who allegedly murdered them beforehand.  Or well-spent in the future, as the community heals itself.

But why does it take the senseless death of our "good kids" to accomplish a sense of unity and family in our communities? Are we without meaning to sending the message that "bad kids" deserve to die -- and thus, because they are "less deserving", it is just "same old same old" when they are murdered? Are the only legitimate "victims" in a situation like this those that did not succumb to "badness"?

It seems to me, from where I sit in my 'hood, that so many kids who are victimizers are also themselves victims from an early age:  victims of poverty, victims of confused messaging, victims of an "I got mine, get yours" culture, victims of a society that will spend billions in tax dollars to punish them but almost nothing to support and nurture them growing up, victims simply of folks not feeling that they were a priority, when it came from everything from time to taxes.

Take the kids who are reported to have been in the majority of the killing group in the Newark playground last week, for example.

I do not know much about the murderers arrested in connection with the Newark slayings - so far, there isn't much written about them, other than that they were Latino gangbangers or wannas affiliated with (or claiming, even if not formally jumped into) MS-13.

(Those who have any meaningful experience in the 'Hood understand, I bet, that there is a likely correlation between the suspects signing MS-13, and the fact that the college students were not just murdered, but executed.  No matter how much the mainstream media believes politicians and law enforcement who insisting that "we don't know" that the Newark murderers were really gangbangers and that it seems like it "was just a robbery."

Here's my educated guess, as someone who once was solicited to join a gang - New York's La Familia, open to me then only because I had a Puerto Rican sweetie - 3 decades ago:  The young victims were picked by what all agree was a "gang" to fulfill what they perceived as a precondition of formally entering into "family."  Maybe it was indeed the Mara Salvatrucha, which like the Bloods and Crips and Sureños and Nortenos and all the other modern versions of "gang", usually demands blood for blood; demands the murder of innocents to show the ultimate loyalty to "family".

Stranger blood, when you can get it.

It's sad when one can look back with nostalgia on the days where gang initiation was simply a matter of getting your butt whupped.  Not that I ever experienced it, because I declined my one invitation and, back in the day, you could actually do that and live.)

But either way, I grieve for the children involved here.  I grieve for their mothers.  And fathers.  Both those children who were murdered and those who did the murdering.

How can we not grieve for a 15 year old who has thrown his life away when it's reported that even as he went out to commit madness with his "crew", he was perceived by people as being forced to accompany them, because he was in tears? Is a child like that really "bad" -- so bad that we are given no pause by the fact that his life has now ended figuratively as he was taking literal life? According to the news, 1/2 of the suspects in the Newark murder were younger than the people they killed.

That has to make you sleep worse at night. 

(I do not know what to make of the ringleader who fired the first shots, and apparently also managed to squeeze in shaking down terrified residents and raping a 5-year old in his spare time, all at the ripe old age 28.  I know that it was not that long ago that 28 seemed old, to me.  Mature.  Now, nearly 18 years past that point myself, it seems just barely out of childhood.  Perhaps because it's not that much older than my eldest child.)

The second reason that I have mixed feelings is not about childhood, but about the fact that Newark's new found community unity does not yet appear to confront that in Newark and elsewhere, cultures are colliding.  I admit that this story of apparently random murder of "good kids" in Newark (which already rocked me very hard coming right on the heels of the Chauncey Bailey murder) rocked me to the core when I learned of the ethnic identity of the assailants.  Because this story is getting too familiar for those who keep up with news in urban areas out here in California.

There are some Latino folks out there who are killing Black folks.  Because they are Black. 

This phenomena, which most argue is Mexican-Mafia prison culture spilling out into the streets, has been one of those ugly "keep under the rug" secrets about the members of two downtrodden communities colliding in Los Angeles for several years now.  And, for want of a better term, one of them negotiating space and neighborhood primacy through violence.  Some have referred to it as "ethnic cleansing", this upsurge of Latino murderers purposefully targeting African-American victims.  It certainly gives one pause, especially when one realizes that in LA, the pressure cooker for this type of heinousness at the moment -- police are telling Black folks not to go certain places -- Canoga Park, most recently -- else they place their lives at risk, that's how out of hand it's gotten.

I don't know yet that it's ethnic cleansing, and agree with those who say that the phrase is now being deliberately misused by white supremacists to further their own anti-immigrant agendas.  On the other hand, what do you call it when folks of one ethnicity are targeting strangers for random violence based on their Black skin, as cannot be denied is an increasing phenomena?  If even the Southern Poverty Law Center -- which has made a mission out of following what it deems hate crimes -- is concerned, the rest of us need to be as well.  Those who claim that this is nothing more than "gangs killing gangs" are ignoring, accidentally or otherwise, that some of the victims have nothing to do with gangs, (such as the 14-year old girl Cheryl Griffin murdered in January, or the homeless brother killed in Highland Park.)  Even if any victims of these targeted hits do have gang-affiliations, that fact does not obviate the truth if any of them were also marked for death based on their race. 

Or does it, in a world where we unite as a community over the death of "good kids" but seem not to care much about the ongoing death of "bad" ones?

  I am given pause by the fact that those trying to put the lid on the "ethnic cleansing" narrative are spending so much time dismissing it all on the grounds that "it's just gang members."

So, one has to ask: in light of the execution-style manner in which the four youths in Newark were killed by what all agree was a Latino gang (whether or not it is MS-13; that's totally secondary) over what the police want us to believe is a simple robbery, is the jockeying for position that is infecting LA now spreading to other urban centers cities where Blacks and Latinos share not only their downtrodden conditions vis a vis the man, but living boundaries as well?

Damn, I certainly hope not.

For the record, I don't see what is going on in LA as "ethnic cleansing" so much as jockeying for position using the same anti-Black mindset as has historically plagued new arrivals to our American shores - this time around aided by the lethality of freely-available guns.  Jockeying done by entire generations who have learned both that in America, the bottom of the heap continues to be Black folks (Native Americans excepted; everyone continues to forget them) *and* that when one has no real prospects in life, power is most often wielded most effectively from the business end of a gun.

The same impetus that causes ignorant Black folks to target victims for crime based on assuming they are illegal immigrants, based solely on their visual Latino ethnicity. 

It seems to me that of all the aspects of long-delayed community unity now evidencing themselves in Newark, we need to encourage another dimension of unity from in this horrific crime that unites Blacks and Latinos -- in a good way -- through the common fact that no matter what the motives, it is our youth ("good kids" and "bad kids") whose lives are swirling down the drain.

Do we even have any common purpose, Blacks and Latinos in America? I always believed we did, even though I do not agree that the common purpose needs to be furthered through turning a blind eye to illegal immigration, which no serious researcher now disputes adversely impacts unskilled and low-skilled African-American workers no matter how much well-meaning white liberals insist differently without citing any evidence and by ascribing -- backhandedly -- to racist shibboleths regarding the inferior work habits of Black folks.  I think one could discuss the answer to that question "What is our common purpose" all day long, and have a million views emerge.  And we probably need to do just that.

But it seems to me that one common purpose is self-evident and is a true basis for unity no matter what else is going on with economic competition.  All competition for jobs and power and status in America aside, and there's lots of it right now, Blacks and Latinos still both clearly have the common purpose of seeing our not-white children grow up, thrive and survive in a racist society.

I hope everyone can agree that our youth killing each other is not exactly the way we're going to get there. 


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