Writing for The Root, Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., The Burton Wire’s Editor-in-Chief wonders why there is a national outcry when an unarmed black teen is killed by a non-black person, but there is little fanfare in many cases when the perpetrator is black. UPDATE (7/16/13): Here is the article in its entirety:
The recent killing of 17-year-old Jordan Davis has black folks and social-justice activists up in arms over yet another senseless death of an unarmed black boy at the hands of an armed white man in Florida. I’m still trying to figure out how an argument over the volume of music escalated to the use of deadly force against unarmed teenagers.
I’m also perplexed as to why the shooter, 45-year-old Michael Dunn, allegedly fled the scene if he felt that the shooting was justified and he was “covered” by Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law. If he hadn’t done anything wrong or excessive, then why leave the scene, particularly when there were eyewitnesses?
What I find most perplexing is the national outcry by black folks when a black boy is gunned down by a nonblack person, but there’s a “business as usual” attitude (from some media organizations and political leaders) when black boys and girls are gunned down by other blacks in communities of color throughout the country.
One has only to look at what is happening in inner-city Chicago. Six people were killed on Aug. 18, tying the record for killings in a single day in Chicago set on Feb. 19. Four of the victims were teenagers. The record-setting killings were dwarfed by the number of people wounded during that weekend: 36, to be exact.
To add insult to injury, five people were wounded the following Monday night in a south side shooting, including two teenage girls who were grazed while sitting on a porch. Blood has been running through the streets of Chicago for far too long, yet there is very little being said or done on a national level about what’s happening there.
What about Detroit? In February a 9-month-old died after being hit by bullets from an AK-47 after his house was “sprayed,” allegedly because of a dispute over seating at a baby shower, and a 6-year-old was killed in what appears to have been a carjacking by a pair of 15-year-olds wielding AK-47s — this after a 12-year-old girl was killed in January after getting caught in the crossfire of a man and a woman engaged in an argument that turned violent. Where was the huge national outcry about these killings?
Record numbers of murders are not found just in Midwestern cities. One only has to look at Camden, N.J.; Stockton, Calif.; Oakland, Calif; Memphis, Tenn.; St. Louis, Mo.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Baltimore to find murder rates that are out of control. Statistically speaking, most crimes are committed by people who look like their victims, because crimes occur in neighborhoods that are largely segregated racially and economically.
I find it maddening that the same outrage and disgust expressed when an unarmed black teen is killed by a nonblack adult is not reflected on a national level, when incidents of gun violence, murder and mayhem — many involving teenagers — are happening on a regular basis in communities of color throughout this country.
Why does it seem less acceptable when someone from outside the community kills a black teenager than when someone from inside the community does the killing? The level of anger and desire for justice for the victim and punishment for the perpetrator should not be driven by the color of the alleged assailant’s skin. If black folks do not appear to value the lives of our children every day in our communities, then why do we think that people outside the community would value those same lives?
Unlike in Trayvon Martin’s case, Davis’ killing had several eyewitnesses who are helping the police build a case against Dunn. In some of our communities, if there are eyewitnesses to violent crimes, we often discourage them from working with the police to apprehend the suspects. Instead, they are often labeled “snitches” if they actually report the crime and offer testimony.
We still don’t know who killed Tupac, Biggie or Jam Master Jay, and there were eyewitnesses to all three of those high-profile murders. What difference does it make if you are considered a pioneer, genius or game changer in the American mainstream and in black popular culture if your life isn’t valued enough for someone to reveal, “Who Shot Ya?”
I understand that there are many cultural reasons for this phenomenon of silence (fear of retaliation, police occupation instead of protection, economic inability to leave the community where the perpetrator might also reside). However, at what point do we stop leaning on these factors and start standing up for the black bodies — many of them teenagers’ — that are lining the streets of our communities?
What happened to Jordan Davis is awful, and we should all be calling for justice at the tops of our lungs. That demand should be just as loud when the alleged killer of one of our children looks like us, because if we don’t value our own, then who will?
Nsenga K. Burton is editor-at-large for The Root and founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire.