Forums Question: brownsville song

Charles E Williams headshot

Chief Judge Charles E. Williams, Circuit Judge of the 12th Judicial Court and Steering Committee Chair posed this question for this year’s online discussion. Read his bio by clicking here.

The Question

2016 was one of the most violent years in Chicago’s  history with a final tally of 762 homicides. Most of these victims being young black males.

Why has our society become increasingly numb to these numbers?

Where does the fault lie? Is it with an increasingly pro-gun culture that allows almost anyone to possess firearms?

Is it because the ones who commit the murder do not value life – including their own?

What can we do to stop this senseless violence not just in Chicago but all over our country?

The Response

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Dr. Eddy Regnier, Clinical Psychologist at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Read his bio by clicking here.

Why has our society become increasingly numb to these numbers?

First of all let’s be clear, we are not numb to these violent acts. Humans have the capacity to feel, to care, and to love, but we have a sense of helplessness and powerlessness that drains and isolate us. We watch violence daily on our mass communication systems. On a daily basis we watch children, women, people in authority, young and old killed senselessly. Of course this affects us. While we are shocked, scared and anxious, we have more immediate concerns. Our lives have become far too busy, too removed from each other. Our leaders have become too inaccessible and seem to lack integrity. Thus we are left to our own devices with little trustworthy guidance.  

We live in the age of information,  but we have never been more disconnected from each other than we are today.  We have online relationship, not face to face contacts; our friends have become text messages received, not the warmth of touching and experiencing.  Our electronics have been both a blessing and a barrier from touching that makes it seem as if we do not care. We are lost in a sea of meaningless online chatter that is mined and then distorted to give false impressions about our worries, fears, and needs.  However, we do care, in fact we care so much that we have lost our collective voice.

Where does the fault lie?

First recall that historically we have never been more peaceful than we are today.  There has never been a time when we have more legal rights or benefits than we have today.  This does not mean our work is complete, as the current violence suggest. We have a long way to go.  However do not forget the past horrors and brutality of slavery, Reconstruction, Segregation, and Civil Rights Movement. 

On a psychological note, Slavery and two hundred years of brutality have left African Americans with a distorted view of themselves.  African Americans have absorbed the dominant cultural view of black as something hateful.  The dominant culture view of blacks is full of the image (movies, mass media, narratives, cultural beliefs) that blacks have low intelligence, low morals, are lazy, animal like, are cowards in the face of danger and are less than human. 

It may be as Franz Fanon, Psychiatrist stated, violence in the black community is symptomatic of something larger; an attempt by some blacks to perpetuate self-hatred; KILL what I hate in myself, my brother my sister, anything black that looks like me.  This not too hidden psychological belief is then supported by poor role expectations for black males, and economic realities grounded in poor educational opportunities leading to crime, incarceration,  poverty that further erode family values.  Thus violence is a symptom of a much broader issue of survival. 

Is it with an increasingly pro-gun culture that allows almost anyone to possess firearms?

Gun possession is certainly part of the problem, but not the essential issue.  The problem is us, we Americans.  We have developed a culture that admires violence and sees it as entertainment.  We have hostile feelings for each other, not just racial hatred, but just about every issue.   We are intolerant; we are impatient; we expect to be first in everything; we expect the best, even when we do not deserve it.  Guns are then symptomatic of how we enforce our belief system.   A culture that loves violence also loves gun ownership.

Is it because the ones who commit the murder do not value life – including their own?

Clearly this is a yes; Black Violence is frequently rooted in historical self-hatred fueled by the desperation of economic necessity. 

What can we do to stop this senseless violence not just in Chicago but all over our country?

The solution to black violence is achievable if only we make it a priority.  First we must make good quality education available to everyone.  Second, we must insure that every neighborhood has safe clean and easily accessible parks that foster a sense a community. We must insure that there are sufficient good jobs for all that want to work that gives them sufficient income to pay for the basics of life, food, shelter, reliable transportation, and access to health care. We must promote respectful treatment of all. Finally encourage public dialogue about common problems in safe humanizing environments. We must truly promote love, or all is lost.

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Gilbert King, author of the Pulitzer prize-winning book, Devil in the Grove – Read his bio by clicking here.

Obviously, the number of killings in Chicago is alarming, especially since the homicide rate in the United States has tapered off to historic lows over the past thirty years. Greater minds than mine are studying these trends, and I think it’s important to look to the data for solutions.  But I can’t help but think that, like so many issues involving African-Americans in this country, we are where we are as a nation because we’ve never made a serious attempt to reconcile our shared past. The great Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative said, “We cannot heal the deep wounds inflicted during the era of racial terrorism until we tell the truth about it.”  Slavery did not end in America with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, it merely evolved. The Reconstruction Era marked the beginning of systemic mass incarceration in this country that has disproportionately impacted black lives, families, and communities. When you study the racial history of America, it’s impossible to not make these connections. If we want to address the unacceptable levels of violence involving black males in our cities, I think we do a great disservice to the nation by focusing on gun laws and sentencing guidelines. We need to acknowledge some real truths.

 

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Trevor D. Harvey, Student Development Adviser at the State College of Florida and President of the Sarasota County Branch NAACP – Read his bio by clicking here.

I am not sure our society has become numb, I think we are trying to figure out why the homicides continue to increase. One major factor is the low social economic conditions in the South Side of Chicago, and many other communities across this country.

The fault lies with us all. The powers at be, can do more, by providing jobs, and resources that increase the standard of living in communities like Chicago. The people/citizens can do more, by standing up and not tolerating violent behavior, such as becoming mentors.

Until we come together as a nation for healing and reconciliation, we will continue to see some of these problems. United we stand, divided we fall…..it’s time for us to unite…….

3 responses to “Forums Question: brownsville song

  1. Reverend Demetrius Jifunza

    Why has our society become increasingly numb to these numbers?

    I do not think we have become numb to just the numbers, but rather the situation. We have become comfortable to the seemly, peaceful coexistence to gun violence among young black males. It’s at the point top where we have normalized this behavior in certain arears, predominately urban areas.

    Where does the fault lie? Is it with an increasingly pro-gun culture that allows almost anyone to possess firearms?

    The fault lies in the lack of understanding the direct needs for our youth. A pro-gun culture is a direct response to a lack of meaningful programs and regularly funded mental health institutions which speak to the creative genius of our youth. Firearms have always been here. We must speak to issue of how they manage to find its way in the communities and continue to multiply.

    Is it because the ones who commit the murder do not value life – including their own?

    Yes, I strongly agree that it is ideally about not valuing one’s life, including their own. With that being said, I feel we need to approach this situation differently. I am neither a therapist nor a mental health professional; however, I feel this is more of a mental health problem than a criminal problem. The shootings can be understood as suicide or suicide attempts. What happens in a person’s life at such a young that will cause one to take a life and not care if they live or die?

    What can we do to stop this senseless violence not just in Chicago but all over our country?

    We can start by issuing and improving programs which speaks to the interest of our youths. Further, we should invest more money into mental health programs and retain mental health professionals which not only relate to the youth but can also speak their language. Most importantly, we must stop accepting broken behavior as an acceptable culture.

  2. Rabbi Aaron Koplin, of Temple Sinai Sarasota

    Why has our society become increasingly numb to these numbers?

    Two reasons: As was learned during the Vietnam War, when there is a steady stream of a particular form of violence, in words and/or pictures, the public becomes inured to the violence, to its victims, and to its perpetrators. In addition, if the victims are members of a group which is considered a “them” then there is even less concern or dismay. So, black on black violence is dismissed while black on white violence and/or white on white violence is considered a major social problem. White school children being killed are a national tragedy, especially when done by white persons. Black school students having to face danger even just walking to or from school is a “sad” situation. Racism is certainly not dead.

    Where does the fault lie? Is it with an increasingly pro-gun culture that allows almost anyone to possess firearms?

    The easy access to guns obviously does provide a very lethal means of expressing anger, group hostility, identity, psychological problems, etc. Stricter gun control would be of obvious help. But the causes of violence would not disappear with better or absolute gun control. Lethal incidents of such intensity as road rage with a gun would be mitigated but less means of violence, such as knives, clubs, broken bottles, would not disappear and neither would the violence.

    Is it because the ones who commit the murder do not value life – including their own?

    That murderers do not especially value others’ lives as being somehow sacred is clear. But other can be “useful”, can be of value, if the perpetrator needs more self-esteem, prove himself to others, and demonstrate his willingness to go beyond where others fear to go. We all depend to some extent on the evaluation of others. If there is a culture which gives rewards of prestige and power and the like, and appears to be more important than the culture that rewards restraint, delayed gratification, being a hard worker, obeying the law and having respect of others through showing respect for them, it is not surprising that efficient violent means are found and used.

    What can we do to stop this senseless violence not just in Chicago but all over our country?

    The first thing to do is to recognize that the horrendous violence is not “senseless.” That is not a statement of support for these tragedies, but a suggestion that until we look at the benefits of the violence to particular types of persons and particular types of cultures and sub-cultures, we will never succeed in rectifying these situations. Better and reformed police work, psychological remediation, education improvement, reforming family structure and so forth are all needed. But until the general society provides real evidence that violence costs the perpetrator and that the alternatives do actually provide the identity, the self-esteem, the prospect of economic success, and a positive group inclusion, success seems at best only a partial hope. In short, until violence does become senseless in the everyday facts of life and future prospects, it unfortunately will be all too sensible.

  3. Reverend Kelvin Lumkin, President of FOCUS, North Sarasota Ministerial Group

    Why has our society become increasingly numb to these numbers?
    The epidemic of black men killing black men has become so common place that we’ve become numb to it. Just like HIV/AIDS, young black are being forgotten. We need a voice who will bring this epidemic to the forefront of the public’s conscience. May be without the restraints of the Presidency, Barack Obama will be a voice to remind us.

    Where does the fault lie? Is it with an increasingly pro-gun culture that allows almost anyone to possess firearms?
    I honestly don’t believe that the accessibility of firearms is the cause of number of shootings of black men. Don’t get me wrong it’s a part of the problem, but I believe the root of the problem is the collective self-esteem of black men. I’ve buried a number of young black men in Sarasota, who were killed by other young black men, and most of them had a missing father. The music they listen to and the videos they watch romanticize the drug culture. Some of them aspire to be drug dealers. I believe the absence of black fathers is the root of most of our community’s problems. I don’t say that to beat down black men, but we must be present fathers.

    Is it because the ones who commit the murder do not value life – including their own?
    That is a part of it, many young black men seem to be fatalistic. Some don’t even expect to live long. I see a culture of death forming where some of these young men don’t fear death anymore. They’ve become so hardened they don’t value their lives much less the lives of others.

    What can we do to stop this senseless violence not just in Chicago but all over our country?
    First, fathers need to father their children. Be present in the lives of their kids. Also, I believe black men who have achieved some measure of success in life have a responsibility to mentor fatherless black boys. Just like Harriet Tubman, if you’ve found freedom, go back and help someone else find freedom.

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