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Us Killing Us - The high cost of carnage in Black neighborhoods and why we have to stop it.

By Bryan Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Mar 7, 2017 - 10:46:41 AM

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‘Unexplainable pain no one can imagine’

Blacks must not only recognize the ways in which they’re destroying and hurting one another, but must also see the plan of an enemy to create conditions that facilitate self destruction.

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Kanari Gentry Bowers, 12 was shot in the head Feb. 11 by a stray bullet while playing outside. She died four days later. No arrests have been made. | Two-year-old Lavontay White, was shot and killed Feb. 14 while sitting in a car with his uncle who was also killed and was reportedly the intended target. The shooting also injured a pregnant woman in the car. At presstime, three men had been charged in the attack. | Takiya Holmes, 11 was shot Feb. 11 while sitting with her mother and other relatives in a car, Feb. 11 and died from her injuries Feb. 14. A 19-year old man, allegedly shooting at rival gang members, has been charged in her death.

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Raven Roberts cries as she looks at a picture of her aunt, Nykea Aldridge, during a vigil at the Willie Mae Morris Empowerment Center, Sunday afternoon, Aug. 28, 2016, in Chicago. Aldridge, a 32-year-old mother of four, and the cousin of NBA star Dwyane Wade, was pushing her baby in a stroller near a school where she'd planned to register her children when she was shot in the head and arm. She wasn't the intended target, Cmdr. Brendan Deenihan said at a news conference, but rather a driver who had just dropped off passengers in the neighborhood. Photo: AP/Wide World photos

CHICAGO—Whether it’s a large city like Chicago, or a small town in the South, Black communities across the country struggle with the same issues: gangs, guns, drugs and violence. It’s reached epidemic proportions to where young Black boys and girls are dying every day due to one, or a combination of all four factors.

However, in Chicago, the city was rocked by the senseless killings of three children in the span of four days.

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Eleven-year-old Takiya Holmes, who is the cousin of well-known Chicago activist Andrew Holmes, was killed by a stray bullet while sitting in a van. Twelve-year-old Kanari Gentry Bowers was also killed by a stray bullet while she was just playing outside, and the youngest, two-year-old Lavontay White, was killed in a targeted attack as he was sitting in the car with his uncle—who was also killed in the shooting—and his girlfriend who was four months pregnant. At the time the fatal shots rang out, the 21-year-old woman was streaming via Facebook Live. 

Chicago is certainly no stranger to violence, especially within the Black community. However, the tragic deaths of three innocent children  caused many to wonder just how much worse can things get, coming off last year when more than 750 people died at the hands of guns?

“It’s stressful. Very stressful,” Andrew Holmes, who also serves as crisis responder in the Chicago Survivors program, and whose own daughter was tragically shot to death in Indianapolis, told The Final Call. “It’s a pain no family should have to go through and we’re in a rabbit hole that’s going to be very hard to come out of. To lose anyone—especially a child—to gun violence is an unexplainable pain that no one can imagine. It’s hard to imagine any parent looking at their child and thinking about what life would be like without that baby. No one should have to think about that.”

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Demarco Webster Jr., 14 was an honor student. He was shot and killed Nov. 1, 2016 while helping his father move. No arrests have been made.

While most people equate gun violence with something that plays out primarily among young adults and their older counterparts, very few understand or even consider how these incidents affect young children.

The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence found more than 38 percent of Black children witness or experience some form of violence during their childhood. Additionally, Black youth between the ages of 12 and 24 are exposed to substantially higher rates of violence than White youth in the same age bracket.

Even more startling: Homicide is the No. 1 cause of death for Black youth between the ages of 15 and 24.

“Before my son was killed, I saw mothers on Facebook that I was friends with who lost their children to gun violence, but it was different because these weren’t people who were close to me like that. But when it came to my doorstep, the trauma was much more severe,” said Akesha Hester whose son, Demarco Webster Jr., was caught in the crossfire in an October 2016 shootout between rival gang members on Chicago’s West Side. What made this incident even more tragic was Demarco was in the process of helping move himself and his father out of their apartment and into a better neighborhood.

Although the pain of losing her oldest son was great, Ms. Hester used it as motivation to become a youth advocate to try and help other children deal with everyday pain young people face growing up in a city where violence has unfortunately become an accepted way of life in Black neighborhoods.

“I’ve always had a heart for teenagers, but just kids in general. It really hurts my heart to see kids being killed and its kids doing the killing. Kids killing kids. It just really grieves my heart,” she said. “I’m constantly trying to find a way to make a difference in the city of Chicago, not only as it relates to death of my son, but for other innocent kids who were killed due to gun violence and to try and put a stop to it, or at least decrease it.”

In August 2016, 32-year-old Nykea Aldridge was shot and killed pushing her baby in a stroller on Chicago’s South Side. She was the cousin of Chicago Bulls star Dwyane Wade. Four years prior, Mr. Wade’s nephew, Darren Johnson survived being shot twice in the leg. Coming from a family that is no stranger to violence, Mr. Wade is very sensitive to not only the gun violence, but to the families like his that have suffered through it.

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“It doesn’t get easy,” Mr. Wade said. “Every time you turn on the TV and see something negative like that, it’s sad. I know somebody’s family is going through the same thing that my family went through and you never get over it. My auntie, myself and the rest of my family, we’re not over Nykea’s death. We’ve just tried to come together and help others and try and deal with it as best we can. But it’s sad, man.”

He created the #SpotlightOn movement to try and bring positivity in the lives of young people who live in violent areas of Chicago, by showcasing some of the successes they achieve in school or in their community. It’s his way of giving back and honoring the life of his slain cousin.

Peeling back the layers

There are many contributing factors to the violence epidemic plaguing Black communities nationwide. However, poverty could be cited as the main, if not the primary cause of this condition.

According to the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice, there are 45.3 million people living in poverty in America. Of that number, 27.2 percent (roughly 1-in-4) of poor people in this country are Black, the highest of any other ethnic group. Additionally, 45.8 percent of Black children under the age of six live in poverty, compared to just 14.5 percent of White children of the same age. The unfortunate correlation here is that the deeper you are in poverty, the more vulnerable you are to being exposed to, or even becoming a victim of, violence.

However, as painfully factual as these statistics may be, and even useful in trying to better understand the correlation between poverty and violence in the Black community, it is the crime data that is most often cited. It’s not uncommon to hear that while Black people make up less than 15 percent of the U.S. population, they commit more than 50 percent of crimes that take place in this country.

Framing these numbers in this way has created a dehumanizing effect that causes Black people to be viewed as worthless and of no value by society. However, this negative mindset isn’t just projected onto Black adults, but also children.

“Dehumanizing people moves them apart from each other,” Susan Johnson, executive director of the Chicago Survivors program, told The Final Call. “So, somebody who’s White and middle class from the North Side of Chicago who hears about the murder of a Black child on the South Side, can live by the fiction of ‘this would never happen in our community.’ But it can and it does. I feel that as a society, we’ve lost the ability to naturally care about the bad things that happen to children. Every child is a child of God. A 14- or 17-year-old Black boy is a child of God. And when we look at them as a potential predator or perpetrator of a crime, then God help us.”

“I think that kind of mindset is ignorance,” said Jashawn Hill, a family support specialist with the Chicago Survivors program who tragically lost her own brother to violence in 2008. “Until you’ve walked a day in their shoes, or until you decide to engulf yourself in their reality, then I don’t think you have the place to point your finger at them or even own the validity to judge them in that way.”

Compounding the problem is the fact that Black youth dehumanize each other. There is too little respect or value for life among young people, much of which is due to the constant bombardment of negativity imposed on them and negative reality inside their own community.

“A very select few of the young people that I talk to feel that people genuinely care about what they’re experiencing. This causes them to not see any value in themselves or each other,” said Charlene Davis, a youth violence prevention specialist in the Chicago Survivors program whose niece was gunned down in 2011. She was picking up a birthday cake for her daughter.

“I have young nieces and nephews, and I live in the hood, so this is my reality. And it gets tough. Sometimes I find myself having to fight back the tears.”

“There’s no love for humanity with a lot of these young people,” said Ms. Hill. “These kids are from the same culture and community and they’re killing each other. There’s no value for life and a general low morale in the Black community. So, if you don’t value life and appreciate it in someone who looks like you, then how can you value or respect the finality of death if you take someone’s life? That’s why I try to expose the young people I work with to positive things outside of the negativity where they live because they’ll have a different respect level for the importance of life itself.”

“These young people are killing each other and they haven’t even learned to live themselves,” added activist Holmes. “To see young people cutting each other’s lives short is just heartbreaking and troubling. It’s hard to hold back tears thinking about what that Black baby who was shot down could’ve been in life, and that goes for both sides. The one who pulled the trigger, there’s no telling whose life they could’ve enhanced had they taken a different route in life.”

Another contributor to the increase in Black-on-Black crime, particularly among the youth, is the negative lifestyle and culture that is continually perpetuated in Black neighborhoods. Young people are inundated with music and images that glamorize negative and self-destructive behaviors, and the content then plays itself out in the streets—when what is considered to be “art,” manifests itself in real life.

“I really believe the music these kids listen to and the videos they watch are very demonic and play about 75 percent of the problem when it comes to this violence,” Akesha Hester said. “These kids are popping pills and drinking lean, all because of what they hear and see in the music. My son used to love this song called “Superpowers” [by Chicago rapper Lil’ Durk] and he would play it all the time. I never listened to the lyrics, but when he passed, one day my daughter was playing it and I listened to the words. I was just shocked because I had never paid attention.

“This guy is just saying, ‘When I get dressed, I got superpowers. When I do this, I got superpowers,’ and these kids really feel like this when they listen to this song. Like they’re invincible. But they don’t realize that no, you don’t have superpowers because growing up in Chicago, you can easily be a victim.”

“The increase in the drug use among our youth is a big problem,” said Mr. Holmes. “The heroin, the fentanyl, drinking lean, and it’s breaking their bodies down. Our teenagers have a lot of health issues and many of them are drug addicts. A lot of this bad music and the gunplay in the videos has to stop because it’s a big contributor to what’s going on, especially with the gun violence. If a teen has a drug problem, then the music and the videos pump him up and once he gets out in the streets, he may go out and shoot somebody and once he comes down off that high, he may not even know what he did, who he hurt or who he killed.”

The Silent Killer

It’s easy to paint Black people as inherently criminal and violent when there is no value placed on their humanity. However, for those in communities plagued by violence, the detrimental effects of suffering violent trauma as it relates to mental health, goes almost completely ignored by both mainstream media and even among Black people themselves.

Violence has become so accepted that many people don’t realize the long-term effects well after an incident has occurred. One sign of this is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It’s something that is difficult to clinically diagnose, but is a deep-rooted problem within the Black community.

According to Mental Health America, Black people are 20 percent more likely to experience psychological distress than Whites. Additionally, since Blacks are more likely to experience violent crime, they are much more predisposed to harboring feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or sadness. Because of the poverty in which many Black people live, they are likely to report some form of psychological distress at a higher rate than Whites.

“Stress builds up in us before we even know it, and trauma eventually catches up with us,” Ms. Johnson said. “The more you’re self-aware of it, the more you can deal with it as it’s happening and not let it build up inside of you. With PTSD, it’s layered; it’s trauma on top of trauma. An old thing can compound a new thing and what we see in many cases are people who have been poly-victimized. A homicide could be the fifth traumatic thing that someone has experienced and no one has ever helped them properly deal with the other four.”

In a lot of shooting cases, many perpetuators are not caught immediately, or in some cases, not at all. These situations can exacerbate problems of PTSD and be even more harmful or damaging.

“There’s a lot of sleepless nights. Many people express fear because they don’t know who did it and why. Situations like this can cause people to not want to go out of the house,” said Ms. Davis. “Some parents whose son or daughter was killed by gun violence may start to smother their other children if they have them. This is their way of trying to protect them better. Someone not being brought to justice for killing another person is the kind of trauma that you can’t understand unless you’ve been through it.”

There is no easy solution or quick fix to solve the problem of violence in Black communities. These issues are systemic, multilayered, and in many ways, purposely created with the express aim of destroying Black people altogether. This has created a war on two fronts where Black people must not only come to the realization of the many ways in which they’re destroying and hurting each other, but also the plan of the enemy to create conditions that ultimately facilitate their own self destruction.

Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan has long warned about a government war against Black people, Black youth in particular, under the guise of a war on guns and drugs. But, he has just as stridently warned that the fratricidal violence must end. Not only for to save lives but for a divine purpose: It is the Nation of Islam’s belief that God Himself has chosen Black people as his own. Black people, the Minister teaches, are destined to become world rulers.

But what is needed is a thorough knowledge of self and unity to promote higher spiritual values and self-love and a practical economic program to combat poverty and want that has helped breed violence—both are offered by the Nation of Islam.

The Minister also delivers a prescient warning that Black America must save herself. It these warnings are not heeded, the enemy will slaughter Blacks in inner cities wholesale.

“You can take this or let it alone: The nature of the White man is different from your nature. And, you keep making mistakes in dealing with them because you think you are the same as they,” he warned in a recent message delivered at Mosque Maryam in Chicago.

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