Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?: On the Brutal & Inexplicable Death of Derrion Albert

Earlier this week, I awoke to find my wife standing directly in front of the television with a look of abject terror on her face. Both her hands were clasped to either side of her face, and in the dimness of the room, I could make out her slowly mouthing, “Oh, my God!,” drawing out and extending the pronunciation of each word.

I could not see the video, but from the bed, I could plainly hear the audio. Even after pulling the covers over my head as if to hide from the sound, I could hear the audio. Long after the television was turned off and I was in my car headed to work, I could hear the audio.

Maybe it’s the sound of a group of teenagers beating another teenager to death that has affected me so deeply. Perhaps it was the shrieks of on-lookers, the shouts of encouragement from both instigators and participants, the blare of car horns trying to shock the teenagers back to their senses, I just don’t know.

But I wasn’t going to say anything. I wasn’t going to write about it all. However, over the last day or so, this post has been writing and re-writing itself in my head. Each time I mentally disposed of a draft, it would soon return, subconsciously revised and edited and awaiting publication.

And the question that keeps returning to my mind is “Whose responsibility is this?”. Let me rephrase this question. Those teenagers, those children, running amok in the street seemingly intoxicated by the violence taking place around them, seemingly under the spell of an inexplicable bloodlust, “Whose responsibility are they?”.

I posed this question before I number of friends and colleagues, and the answer was almost invariably the same. The answer usually began with “Those people…” and was framed in term of “Them [you supply the racial epithet].” But rarely did I hear the answer framed in terms of “we” or “us.” And these were all African Americans—black folk.

For some time now, I have been cognizant of the wide and ever growing chasm between classes within the African American community; the lower socio-economic class seems to devalue all those things the other class deems worthwhile and necessary, while the middle to upper socio-economic class seems to devalue them because of it. But, while you can take umbrage at adult foolishness, children are a completely different story.

Keep in mind, those were our children out there in that street whether we want to admit it or not. Though we may not know them, though we may not be able to claim a sanguineous kinship, a blood relationship, I believe that they still belong to us.

But I ask you again for your opinion: “Whose responsibility are they?”

And I keep hearing people say, “Those folk need to raise their children” or “Black folk need to raise their kids,” and I do not disagree with this one bit. But, in the same instance, in some segments of the African American community, you have a generation of parents, who were never raised themselves, attempting to raise another generation. You have a generation of parents who were never taught how to conduct themselves, how to think critically and rationally, passing on what they know about conducting themselves and thinking critically and rationally.

But in reality, what do they have to offer the younger generation? They need remedial instruction themselves. And more often than not, just merely providing the daily necessities--food, clothing, shelter--takes them outside the home so often and for so long, they have little time to offer their children. Who will teach this younger generation how to conduct themselves, how to use their minds and talents to their greatest advantage?

Whose responsibility is this?

You have whole families stuck in a perpetual cycle, a never ending narrative, of poverty and ignorance for whom the chaos and privation and struggle of the inner city ghetto are the driving plot elements; this is their reality, and they know no other.

I sure many want to do better, many hope to do better, but simply know of no way out. But who will offer them a counter-narrative, a glimpse at an alternate reality? Who will be the one to step up and offer hope to the hopeless, enlightenment to the unenlightened?

Whose responsibility is this?

Previously, I have mentioned Henry Louis Gates’ conjecture that perhaps crisis was desirable because only when we are faced with crisis do we make the difficult decisions necessary. Only crisis will force the necessary players out of the darkness into the light. Only crisis will force the timid to summon the courage to take a stand. A teenager has been beaten to death in the street; if this is not crisis, what is?

Or maybe we should just wait until the violence spreads out of the inner city into the suburbs. Maybe we should wait until one of my children or one of your children is senselessly beaten to death in the street before we finally declare a crisis and take action.

However, we seem to be stuck trying to decide, just whose responsibility it is.

My blog brother RiPPa of The Intersection of Madness and Reality has also chosen today to turn a critical and discerning eye on the this incident and its root causes. [Click here to read his post, "Understanding the Culture of Violence in America."]

13 comments:

Issa Rae said...

I was waiting for you to write something about this. It's important to ask whose responsibility this is AND what's the next step. To attribute responsibility is to associate blame and so many of us get defensive about that.

I respect the two mothers of the suspects SO much for taking responsibility and pointing out their sons out in the video. But WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT THIS, as a community? Are we waiting for a leader to guide us? This is happening far too often and you raise a great point about this generation being raised by a generation who wasn't properly raised. Is that where the hate stems from?

This incident was horrifying.

ggSpiritWrites said...

Glad you wrote about this issue. I haven't had the energy to touch it. The whole situation is mentally exhausting and yet again my mind reverts to the Spike Lee "WAKE UP!" scene at the end of School Daze. Life has spiraled out of control that devising a reasonable solution seems almost impossible. It is much like looking at a remarkable mess and wondering where to commence the cleansing process. Every individual has a social responsibility to consider how their actions ultimately affect the whole. Unfortunately we have become so narcissistic and this incident is one, in a growing number, of the tragic consequences of indifference.

Cheri Paris Edwards said...

Thank you for writing about this. I've been working with "at-risk" youth for almost fifteen years now. Seen a lot of violence, visited and corresponded with plenty jailed students and even know some who died. One of the lines most puzzling and frustrating I hear often is, "..I don't know how you put up with them. I don't why those kids act like that". I always think, "..who's kids are they talking about?" First of all, children from all backgrounds misbehave, so no parent should think when teen years hit they're child may not be one who acts out. Next, these ARE all our children ---like it or not they are the fruit of our community and as you point out, the parents are often just as needy as the children. They cannot give to their kids what they don't have to give. As a mentor/volunteer coordinator for local schools, I'll tell you it's difficult to get African-Americans to become involved. Too often, we are only interested in our family, our friends, those we consider on our level. I mean we can say the words, "each one, teach one", "it takes a village", and on and on, but it makes no difference if WE don't become involved.

"Become a mentor and share what you know..."

Cheri :-)

Kim said...

We are going to do the same thing we did when precious Sherdavia Jenkins was killed, were going to go about business as usual. I don't know why when a white police officers murders our men, we are so ready to mobilize and march, we want those white cops in jail with harsh sentences but when this violence occurs by our own young men in our own community there is a reaction but not nearly as visceral , we shake our head , we grieve for a awhile for the mother that lost her son, God only knows where the father is and Why the news had to show the Mother alone coming back from the medical examiner's office after identifying her son's lifeless body. Interestingly enough we want the President to speak, we don't want each other to support the President solely because he's black but we want him to solve all the ills of the black community..Still can't get over that one. I'm looking at the video of these young men and I just think to myself, why are these young men acting like damn savages? I know their first teachers didn't teach them to behave like that or did they, I mean there is teaching directly and indirectly. There has got to be some famillial disconnect for any youth to join a gang and yes you can have that in a two-parent household or spiritual disconnect that has our kids behaving so violent and apathetic. We can list all the things that could cause this behaviour but upbringing is key. How are we raising our kids, are we teaching their kids to value and respec themselves and the life of others, are we giving them expectations and consequences. Were not talking about just providing a home and clothes, and food, were talking about actual parenting. We accept so much in our community in the name of protecting our young men, that is such a by product of slavery, this culture of senseless violence, we call it struggle and there it's accepted. I think because the problem just seems SO BIG! I know we've talked about it enough.

msladydeborah said...

What bothers me the most about this situation is this:Everybody is talking about the murder and we are all looking for answers. But in reality-I'm the one-You're the one who has to own up to this. Just like we own up to the successes that we all celebrate as a race of people.

I cannot wrap my head around murder period. I'm glad that I cannot and hope that I will never be able to become numb enough to do so.

But, enough is enough! We've sat back on our collective asses and pointed out all the social/economical reasons. What have we done to solve those problems? We all know that crime exists in our midst. We are either too indifferent or too afraid to speak up and out against that element in our society.

We are paying the price for apathy. Every time a man, woman or child is murdered-the cost grows larger. At some point in time we have to pay our national debt for being incapable of handling our business.

Seattle Slim said...

It's the parents, it's us, it's every single black man AND woman who crossed these little twits and did jack shit to stop them.

I'm not going to lie. I can't stand those pieces of crap, but to put blame SOLELY on them is irresponsible and naive as shit.

I have two kids, and the amount of work I have to put in just for them to have a PRODUCTIVE day would make a Fortune 500 CEO piss his pants in fear. That's why they have nannies, because they can tackle corporations, but parenting will knock you the hell down. A good parent will get up and keep it moving.

See, African Americans don't realize that there is NO other choice but to dive in and get to work.

This shit makes me mad. Everyone's angry, but whenever I talk about volunteering, people piss and moan about this and that.

Alrighty then. Proceed on as long as you don't mind more of this shit happening.

Max Reddick said...

@ Issa Rae

Hey, Issa, the newest twitterer. It is commendable that the mothers should do that. Most mothers would have denied it. And I don't think hate fueled the fight. The fight was fueled by absolute foolishness. And the boys didn't mean to kill him. They just didn't realize what a dangerous game they were playing.

@ ggSpiritWrites

Always good to see you drop by. Everyone needs to wake up. This affects us all whether we know it or not or want want to admit it or now, we are all inextricably linked together in the cultural imagination.

@ Cheri

I, too, work with at risk children. And at best it is a hit or miss proposition. I have good days, and I have bad days. I win some, and I loose some. But it is the one whose life I am able to affect that counts.

More people need to realize that they are sorely needed back in the 'hood and instead of fleeing from the 'hood, flee to the 'hood and do your part instead of shaking your head and complaining.

@ Kim

I never thought about it like that but you are right. If a white policeman had killed that child, there would be an outrage like you have never heard. But since it was a black child killing a black child, we will tsk tsk and shake our head and be outraged for a while then go about our business. But we need to get mad enough to go and find out what we can do to affect change where it is needed.

@ msladydeborah

We must take responsibility for our community whether we live in the inner city or the outer suburb. If we don't work to ameliorate the problems of our community, no one else will. It is all our responsibility. And we all need to stand up and begin to accept that responsibility.

Max Reddick said...

@ Seattle Slim

You are exactly right. You cannot fully lay the blame at their feet. One can only operate within their sphere of knowledge, within their range of consciousness.

And it pains me to say it, but white people do more for our community than we do. I volunteered to clean up a black community in my city, and of all the volunteers, only a hand full were black. And when we proceeded down the street picking up trash, the residents just stood their watching us. I wanted to yell at them. We were cleaning up their neighborhood, and they were looking on like spectators at some kind of entertainment event.

Charles J said...

Whose responsibility is it? Every single Black person that breaths air that's who. Our community is not a community at all. We live so spread out from one another due the classist ways we have picked up from our white brothers and sisters that we have lost our sense of "WE" but now we all concentrate on "ME".

Why do boys and girls join gangs? Simply because there is nothing better to do. No after school programs, budgets have been cut for them. The parent(s) can't make enough money to pay bills and feed their kids so they work too hard at underpaying jobs, while leaving their kids to themselves.

As I looked at that video I thought to myself Am I My Brother's Keeper? And the answer is yes.

We need to stop looking down our noses at our OWN and start helping via Girls and Boys Clubs, YMCA, YWCA, churches, synagogues, mosques, volunteering at schools & showing up to PTA meetings, mentoring young people, giving money to support the arts, cleaning our communities etc etc.

We all need to stop complaining if we are not doing anything about the problem. If we are not actively DOING something WE ARE THE PROBLEM.

curlykidz said...

I have been off-line with the PC and out of the loop with the news, so I've only heard about this from Black bloggers... I'm afraid to see any of this footage. I am hesitant to comment about this in the context of the black community because I just know I'm going to sound all "great white hope-ish" but generally speaking as someone who saw a lot of (white) classmates drinking, smoking, and getting knocked up because there just wasn't anything else to do where we lived... I think a sport or other activity and/or mentoring would have made a world of difference for these kids, and every other kid who winds up getting involved in the wrong activities because there weren't any alternatives. I moved to a historically Black neighborhood after my now 8th grader finished kindergarten because it was real obvious that was the only place my children would see more than a handful of black kids in their grade, much less any Black teachers or administrators. I've found more community here than I've experienced since I moved from the teensy little town I grew up in, but I sacrificed a lot of recreation in the process. There are few daycare centers that don't look like they're in disrepair, and they have limited room for school age children (those that are under 12, that is; supervised recreation programs for young teens is virtually non existent aside from the boys & girls club). With the budget issues our local governments are facing, there's been talk the last couple years of the city after school & summer parks & recreation programs being cut. I've spoken at several community budget hearings where teens and even elementary aged children have gone to the microphone and begged, some of the younger ones in tears, for their programs because there isn't anywhere else that they can go and feel safe, or how this staff member or that one helped them feel better about a tough situation at home. There are a lot of great programs out there that could be so much more if they had the resources to serve more kids. If you've got kids and you can't free up evenings or weekends to volunteer without your kids, get the kids involved in a sport and volunteer to be a coach or team manager. If you don't have kids, get involved in a mentoring program. Big Brothers & Big Sisters always needs volunteers; my son was on a waiting list for nearly two years to even be put up for a match, and once he was off the waiting list it still took another year before he got his mentor... if I'd wanted to hold out for a Big Brother who wasn't white, the wait would have been longer.

md20737 said...

I am afraid to watch this video. What I feel and hear each day is enough. We all know the problems but I cant put the visual with it. I am afraid I will never get it out of my head. This situation reminds me of when I was in elementary school and they made us look at Emmit Til at his funneral. To see his face and body look like that was too much for me, and the reasons behind it made it even worse. So now we are doing it to each other further more sickens me and depresses me. Im going to continue to hide from those feelings. Most important I dont want to see how a mother lost her son!

Da_Kween said...

Ours. Period. I wrote on this today (as well as two other tragic deaths) and it rattled my spirit. Maybe we need to get back to those days where parents allowed their family members and neighbors to constructively criticize and discipline their children. Perhaps we need to get back to even TALKING to our neighbors. We've become such an isolated society, only caring about our own microcosm. Not wanting anyone to tell "my kids" what to do. It's time to get out of that narrow thinking. When I was in elementary school...the principal Mrs. Thornton spanked her students who got into severe trouble. The parents gave permission....and when the child returned home...they got another one. It's not the corporal punishment, so much...as it is the knowledge that someone PAST your immediate surroundings gives a DAMN about whether you succeed or fail. I remember that teachers became an extension of the family where you knew you could entrust your child's life with them. I know that so much has corrupted this world...molesters and murderers, who make it hard to give away that kind of trust...but yet...there is a need for the village to be resurrected. Because, these children have lost their minds...and the adults are too scared to intervene. They need the fear of life put into them...and the respect of life, too.

KST said...

I agree with most of the posters here, however I would like to raise a point that has not been brought up. The mob mentality of these kids CAN be found in other places besides the hood. Hazing anyone? There have been countless videos coming out of the suburbs where young white kids have participated in the brutal beatings of one another.

There is something to be said for personal responsibility here. It was a horrific crime, but let's be clear that these people made a choice. Would a better socio-economic made it better? Judging from some of the other hazing incidents on YouTube - I don't think so.

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