Accepting Responsibility for Gang Violence
November 2, 2006
Driving home one recent night I inadvertently punched in a radio station offering the local news, that eternal barrage of murders, fires, and car crashes. I would’ve turned to something more stimulating but was startled by the strident voice, half way to a yell, of a lady who in this story will be called Ann Jones. She was railing that her eighteen-year old son and his friend the same age had been arrested only because they were black. There was no evidence the two had walked up to the open door of a garage where five young white men were playing cards, demanded the keys to a vehicle, received the keys, but still decided to open fire, killing one man and wounding three. The police aren’t telling the truth, Ann Jones said. Her son wasn’t a gang member. And he’d never shoot anyone. The young card players must have had an argument that turned violent.
There’s plenty of Wild West in America but there aren’t any card games in which four of five players are wounded by each other. The crime theory of Ann Jones will therefore not be given consideration in court. Neither will her assertion that whites don’t care when blacks are the victims of violence and only worry when those carried away are white. Ann Jones will be given a temporary pass for her racist outburst since her son and his friend will likely be put on trial for murder and potentially face the death penalty. It is also probable she has seen her son in freedom for the last time. And it’s certain some who will serve on the jury have already been unfavorably influenced by her effort to incriminate those who were shot.
Whether or not her son is guilty as accused, the statement of Ann Jones provokes some painful concerns. Are slavery and its legacy responsible for the slaughter in inner cities and elsewhere? History is part of the problem. But how much? And for how long? When is it time to declare that people who live in a community are responsible for its condition? Who, Ann Jones, has damaged countless neighborhoods nationwide? Who is making babies seventy percent out of wedlock? Who is allowing alarming numbers of kids to ignore their homework and drop out of school? Who is choosing to join gangs and commit crimes?
Some things people can only do to themselves. And only they can change the course.