I have just come from another one of “those” meetings. While I typically write this blog about national issues and trends, today’s message is close to home and deeply personal. Last night in my city, a member of my community—a young Black man was shot and killed by law enforcement. We do not have all of the facts yet, but we do know that an unarmed 19-year-old Black child is dead. As I sat in the packed meeting in a local church I watched the boy’s mother and grandmother sit in stunned silence. I listened to the sobs of the people around me. I wondered as the White news media kept their cameras rolling. The emotions in that room ran from heartbreak to sadness to anger to bitterness. All of those emotions are legitimate and expected however we have to go beyond feeling to doing if we have any chance of surviving.
Here in “idyllic” Madison, Wisconsin we are regularly told we have one of the most “livable” cities in the US…but livable for who? It was apparently not livable for Tony Terrell Robinson (that’s his name…add it to your list with Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Jr., Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, and countless others). Tony’s body lies in the morgue with 5 bullets in his chest and we are in a meeting pointing fingers. That is some what expected but I need to say that in this instance there is enough blame to go around:
Law Enforcement – The most obvious culprit in this boy’s death is the Police Department (or at least the officer who pulled the trigger). What kept the officer from using something other than a gun to subdue a young man s/he was pursuing? We do know that African Americans are more likely to be stopped and questioned by the police with no probably cause. We do know that in a city with a 7% African American population the county jail has a 44% Black inmate population. I do know that despite having had 2 African American police chiefs, Black drivers are the most often pulled over. I also know that Black people, especially Black children are quickly and regularly criminalized.
Schools – So many of the problems that Black Madison residents experience either start or are exacerbated by schools. Our suspension and expulsion rates are ridiculously high. Our drop out and failure rates are criminal. We are less likely to access honors and AP classes. The schools often are the place where our children have their first encounter with law enforcement because teachers and administrators are quick to call the police when they do not know what to do with our children. Several years ago a group of us proposed a charter school for Black and Brown boys. We were criticized for not including girls so we went back to the drawing board and agreed to include girls. But, when the rubber met the road the “liberal” folks of livable Madison would not approve the school. Meanwhile, they have done NOTHING to address the academic and social disparities our children continue to experience.
Churches – Yep, I’m going there! We have more than 20 African American congregations in this city of less than 20,000 Black people. But those 20+ congregations are NOT pulling in the same direction. They are not addressing the real needs of our children. Our churches are so concerned with condemnation that there is little edification. As Michael Eric Dyson says, “Maybe if we lifted their dreams, they’d lift their pants!” The Black church is so preoccupied with what young people are wearing, what music they listen to, and their sexuality that we cannot help them with the REAL issues of their lives—forming their identities, completing school, finding jobs, becoming successful adults.
Community—Yep, again! We have as much culpability as anyone else. We have stopped engaging our children. We avoid them as much as White people do. We are afraid of them and have allowed them to run rampant without boundaries or responsibilities. This is not love; it is license! Until we are ready to stand in the gap for ALL of our children, what happened to Tony Terrell Robinson is going to happen again…and again…and again.
I am at a point in this process where I don’t care if people are angry, belligerent, and beside themselves with rage. I just want people to own the part of the problem that belongs to them and start fixing it. I don’t want to go to another meeting, rally, sit-in, or protest. I want to act on behalf of our kids and I am willing to work with ANYONE who wants to do the same thing!
If you want to help Tony Terrell Robinson’s family afford a funeral for their son please go to www.gofundme.com/tonyterrell
Stay Black & Smart!