Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

Brothers and keepers

10th March 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis

When I got the news that President Barack Obama has finally put together an initiative aimed at helping Black and Latino boys, I thought, “Good for him.”

Several years ago I would have been more excited about the prospects of such an undertaking but I have grown weary and cynical as I have watched the president fail to address the glaring needs of communities of color.

I get it: He’s president of the entire United States, not just people of color.

What seemed to escape President Obama over the past few years is that the rising tide of domestic programs aimed at helping Americans hasn’t really trickled down to those who need the most help — including poor whites — and that desperate times require desperate, and sometimes extreme, measures.

When it comes to being part of the team, no one has been more loyal and patient with President Obama than his Black and Brown constituents. We’ve seen the Obama administration and previous administrations go to bat for farmers, teachers and other groups while failing to address the needs of Black and Latino youth.

Now we hear about the president’s “Brothers and Keepers” initiative.

Obama said the initiative will seek to “start a different cycle.

“If we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers and well-educated, hardworking, good citizens, then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass those lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren.”

I have to ask: Why now?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad this president said something about the plight of Black and Brown youth and the need for the nation to focus on strategies for helping them to survive myriad minefields they will encounter along their path to adulthood.

But why now?

It would have meant a great deal if the president had launched this initiative during his first term or perhaps immediately after the murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis. Those were teachable moments, opportunities to mobilize and harness the rising outrage and calls for justice and equal protection under the law.

That moment in the nation’s history has come and passed.

It somehow has less meaning after the president took time out of his busy schedule to endorse a candidate in the recent New Orleans mayoral race but has had nothing to say about the ongoing miscarriage of justice in the Big Easy.

Contrary to local spinning and carefully orchestrated media reports, very little is being done to ensure that the city’s troubled police department gets a complete overhaul and Black and poor residents enjoy equal protection under the law.

The same candidate the president endorsed in the mayoral race is the one who has relentlessly fought the NOPD consent decree tooth and nail. You can spin it however you choose, but the bottom line is that this administration doesn’t think it is its duty to uphold the law and do everything in his power to ensure that justice takes root in New Orleans.

As things stand now, justice is a distant dream.

This is Ground Zero for white supremacy, the epicenter of white power and privilege. Nearly three centuries after its founding, New Orleans is still being run like a colonial outpost, an imperialist stronghold that utilizes slave labor to maximize profits for wealthy and powerful barons.

With at least one federal judge in New Orleans spewing racial hatred about people of color being predisposed to crime, a district attorney’s office that can’t find the moral courage to prosecute a Marigny resident for shooting a 14-year-old boy in the head and a former U.S. attorney who turned a blind eye toward prosecutorial misconduct in his administration, we need serious help.

We need a complete overhaul of the justice system from top to bottom here in New Orleans. But that would require people in Congress that don’t maintain the status quo and courageous elected officials, something there appears to be a severe shortage of at this time. It would also require a commitment among elected officials at the local, state and federal level to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

Even after the end of Carnival Season, there are too many cowards, self-absorbed charlatans and profiteers masquerading as public servants and champions of justice.

Consider this: While the incumbent mayor talked about one city with one voice during the election campaign, it was back to maintaining the status quo as soon as he was re-elected. Less than two weeks after the February race, it was announced that the mayor has already set his sights on rais Center, shows that eight percent of Black homicide victims never reached their 19th birthday and the average age of Black homicide victims was just 30 years old.

But the numbers tell only part of the story.

“More than one million years of potential life are lost due to gun deaths each year,” the CAP report found. “These are years of life that young people killed by guns would have achieved educational milestones, entered the workforce, had families, and contributed to the social, economic, and cultural advancement of society in untold ways – all erased by gunfire.”

Neill Franklin, a 34-year law enforcement veteran of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department, said that the proliferation of guns in the Black community is directly linked to the growth of illegal drug markets there and the failed War on Drugs.

Franklin worked as a narcotics agent early in his career and is now the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a nonprofit group of current and former law enforcement members that advocate for reform in existing drug policies in the United States. Franklin said that guns were tools of the trade for managing the drug territories.

Franklin said that there’s no major drug organizations controlling drug traffic in the cities anymore, just little independent drug dealers on the corners fighting for market share and the “stick up boys” robbing the drug dealers.

Part of the violence can be attributed to the way disputes are settled on the streets.

“Now whenever there is a dispute of any type, whether it’s over a girl or something that someone said, or if somebody’s shoe gets stepped on, the way to settle that argument is with a gun,” explained Franklin.

Add the easy availability of guns to that dangerous mix and the problem is compounded.

According to a report by the Children’s Defense Fund on youth gun violence “virtually anyone can buy a gun without a background check.”

A loophole in the federal law governing gun sales allows private sellers, even on the Internet, to peddle guns without submitting the buyer to a background check.

“In 2009, undercover stings at gun shows in Nevada, Ohio and Tennessee revealed that 63 percent of private sellers sold guns to purchasers who stated that they would be unable to pass a background check,” stated the CDF report.

It also found: “A 2011 study of internet gun sales found that 62 percent of sellers agreed to sell a gun to a buyer who said he probably couldn’t pass a background check.”

Researchers say that this is how guns often make it onto the black market – literally and figuratively – and it’s also the reason why many gun control advocates support background checks for every gun sale.

A law mandating universal background checks on all gun sales enjoys nearly unanimous support (92 percent) among with 18- to 29-year-olds.

According to the CAP report, 60 percent of people under the age of 30 were concerned that gun violence would affect them “personally or their communities in the future.” For people of color under 30 years old, that concern jumped to 73 percent.

“A vast majority of Americans support this idea: that every gun sale should have a background check,” said Chelsea Parsons, associate director of Crime and Firearms Policy at the Center for American Progress. “Without that, it’s meaningless to say that certain categories of people can’t buy guns.”

Although Franklin supports background checks on gun sales, he said that handgun laws don’t have anything to do with the massive gun violence in the Black community in cities like Baltimore.

“Criminals don’t care about the law,” said Franklin “They buy their guns illegally. They pay twice or triple what the gun is worth, because they have the money, because they are selling dope. These laws that we’re passing are only going to affect law-abiding citizens.”

Franklin said that background checks don’t get to the root of the problem: the continued drug war waged in our nation’s poorest communities.

The drug scene often attracts urban youth because they aren’t many attractive alternative economic opportunities for them, said Caroline Fichtenberg, research director for the Child­ren’s Defense Fund.

“A smart, Black boy living in Southeast, Washington, D.C. may see the drug economy as the best way to get money and to be recognized as someone who has accomplished something,” said Fichten­berg. “And that is something we absolutely must change.”

Fichtenberg said that reducing the availability of illegal guns, teaching children that violence is not the way to resolve conflicts, making long-term investments in communities and improving educational and economic opportunities for poor communities are just a few of the steps needed to change the tide of rampant gun violence that disproportionately affects young Blacks.

Franklin said that ending the drug war is paramount to stemming the tide of gun violence among Black youth.

“We have to end this drug war, we have to end drug prohibition,” said Neill Franklin, a 34-year law enforcement veteran of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a nonprofit group of current and former law enforcement members that advocate for reform in existing drug policies in the United States. “That’s going to halt the cycle of mass incarceration of sending all these young boys to prison. Once we end the drug war, we have to take some of the money that we’re not spending on cops and court rooms and prisons and we have to beef up these organizations that have these wonderful mentoring programs.”

Franklin continued: “If we don’t start now, outlining a long-term plan to deal with these children and their families, beginning with ending the drug war, we’re going to continue to lose generation after generation. It’s been decade after decade after decade. We should know that by now.”

This article originally published in the March 10, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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