Thompson: Coming to grips with Detroit’s black-on-black violence
Chicago-based Jawanza Kunjufu, an authority on black studies and author of several books on saving black boys, once wrote: “A people without their culture will be afraid to walk down the street at three o’clock in the morning and meet someone who looks like them because they can never be sure whether they share the same value system. A people without a culture and values are dangerous.”
Kunjufu’s assessment describes what is presently taking place in the wake of Detroit’s black-on-black crime — a subject most of us don’t want to talk about as a community because some see it as airing dirty laundry in public. But we are quick to call press conferences and galvanize mass protests over police shootings of black men and to render such actions as the face of black oppression in America.
While unjustified police shootings and overbearing law enforcement are unacceptable and must be condemned across the board, we cannot ignore the sad reality of our conspicuous silence on what our young black men and women are doing to each other. Their actions demand equal outrage. This is not how we should live our lives, afraid of each other.
We should be outraged that Anthony Tolson, a 33-year-old black father of three children, was murdered on Christmas Eve on his way to Detroit’s east side. Tolson’s life is the antidote to the cultural pathology and perceived image that most black men are irresponsible. He was gunned down after playing bass guitar at a church, and on his way to demonstrating what any loving father would do for his children during this season: provide gifts.
His death and countless others, including Chanell Berry, 7, who was killed on Sunday, should not be brushed aside as mere examples of the result of concentrated poverty and lack of opportunities. Rather it should force us to have a real community conversation about an action plan to tackle this level of senseless violence in Detroit.
Like Tolson, Berry’s death is another wake-up call. She was the victim in a dispute reportedly involving her father’s latest girlfriend, 23-year-old Sharonda Benson, and her own mother, Kiana Johnson. Her father reportedly had five children with five different women including Chanell’s mom. This level of self-perpetuating morass often used as a dubious example of why some black women are justifiably bitter is not an excuse to pull the trigger on anyone. Chanell did not ask to be brought into this world. But those who brought her into this world — her mother and father — owe her protection because her life matters just like every other child.
We can debate institutional racism, exclusion from employment opportunities and all the other issues that have long defined the black struggle for social and economic empowerment, but if we are unwilling to frankly discuss with young people that no matter your circumstance it is unacceptable to take anyone’s life, we have failed as a community.
All black lives should matter whether they are victims of police shootings or victims of killings by other blacks. We should be concerned about the pathology that says it’s OK to only raise hell when the culprits are the police and not fellow blacks. We should be concerned about the philosophy of silence on the part of some of our leaders including those with the loudest trumpets and platforms in our community.
Detroit’s own Malik Shabazz, director of the Marcus Garvey Movement/New Black Panther Nation, has long been in the trenches fighting drugs and calling attention to senseless black on black murders and rapes in the city.
Almost daily, Shabazz, working with Crime Stoppers and other groups, sends out text messages notifying the community of blacks who have been murdered or raped.
“What is happening in our community is deep. We need to love each other as black people. We have to be taught love from the womb to the tomb,” Shabazz said about the recent killings. “We have a sub-culture that says it is OK to be a pimp, it is OK to be a carjacker and it is OK to be a rapist. The black men who are engaged in these crimes are totally disconnected.”
These young men need help, Shabazz said, adding that black professional groups should be involved in helping carve out a productive future for them.
“They need to see role models. They need to see that black men go to work. They need to see black doctors, lawyers and engineers,” Shabazz said. “They need to get up from under their mama’s skirt and be men.”
Shabazz added: “The women are helping our young men who are out of control. But you need a man to talk a man. That is why we need black fathers in these homes.”
Yes, asking the black community to step up and boldly address the killings of Tolson and other blacks is bound to rekindle the debate about the racial biases, deep inequalities and persistence of poverty that created “two Detroits” long before the term became politically expedient to discuss in the press.
Shabazz said while the impact of poverty on black families and the lack of opportunities for young black men must be addressed by those in government and in positions of power and influence: “It does not justify or give black men the right to rape your daughter, it does not give them the right to rob your grandmother, and it does not give them the right to kill a preacher.”
Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on WDET-101.9FM at 11 a.m. Thursdays. His column appears Thursdays.