Sunday, October 26, 2003

In the LA TIMES SUNDAY OPINION section, KERMAN MADDOX has a piece on BLACK ON BLACK VIOLENCE. MADDOX teaches political science at LOS ANGELES SOUTHWEST COLLEGE and is on the board of directors of FIRST AME CHURCH. He opens with the murder of one of his students, LEE DENMON, who returned to his neighborhood after graduating college with the intention of doing something to help the community. This admirable young man was killed by a black gangster in an all too familiar case of mistaken identity. MADDOX contrasts the total lack of response to this murder to the response generated when an INGLEWOOD cop slammed DONOVAN JACKSON onto the hood of a cop car. While not condoning police abuse, he rightly asks why the nationwide flap over a body slam by a cop and the nonchalance over the "routine killing of young black males by other young black males."

He also states that he’ll probably be in hot water with AFRICAN AMERICAN leaders for stating this but "I’m tired of being politically correct, because that has not helped the problem." In a statement that makes him sound a little like LARRY ELDER he says, "It’s time to quit blaming everybody else for the problems of violence in our communities. We need churches to launch a crusade to discuss individual responsibility."

This will clearly take some doing. His piece brought to mind the WARREN OLNEY remote broadcast from the AME CHURCH I attended last year. On the panel that night OLNEY had the REV. CECIL MURRAY, CHIEF BRATTON and a young LATINO ex-gangster who was steered out of the gang life by one of AME’S many programs.

What struck me about that meeting was the public reaction in the Q and A session that followed the broadcast. I got the surreal impression that while the people in the audience were all residents of the area, they seemed to inhabit an alternate universe. One self-described community leader asked BRATTON why there weren’t more cops in the neighborhood and why the response times were so long. He got the usual answer about staffing levels, budgets etc. BRATTON also said the, "LOS ANGELES is one of the most underpoliced cities in the country, if not the most underpoliced." He said he needs 15,000 cops to do an adequate job of crime suppression.

A few minutes later, he got another question to the effect that there were too many cops on the street and why were they always harassing and stopping young people for no reason at all. Another guy chimed in that the police were nothing more than an occupying force and that they were the street enforcers in some Trilateral conspiracy to funnel black kids to jails and keep the prison industrial complex operating. In a frightening indicator of how deep that idiocy is ingrained in some people in the black community, that guy got a round of applause and attaboys.

So here we have two deeply held convictions that there are simultaneously too many cops and not enough cops in the black community. To quote MADDOX, "What gives?"

Another question from a woman also got a round of applause. She wanted to know why the cops don’t do a better job of instilling positive values in young black males. She suggested that when a kid gets in trouble, the cops should take them under their wing and guide them to a better life instead of just throwing them in jail. This is the COPS AS SOCIAL WORKERS WITH GUNS syndrome. BRATTON responded politely. In a roundabout way he suggested that it wasn’t the job of the LAPD or any police department to educate young people. That’s the job of schools, churches and parents. That got hisses from quite a few people in the room. The REV. MURRAY looked like he’d just been informed of some bad lab results. BRATTON took that in stride and tried to keep the conversation on some level of reality.

After that night, I wondered how many generations it would take for those absurd attitudes to be filtered out of black communities. And I realized what an uphill struggle people like CECIL MURRAY are shouldering on a daily basis. And I was awed by the courage people like him display by getting up every morning, knowing that the day will bring only tiny victories, if any. Lesser men would probably be driven to despair. Or just give up and go fishing. The REVEREND MURRAY just keeps at it with a happy heart.

From an intellectual or public policy basis, I’m not a fan of government relying on religious institutions to cure social problems. But my mind is slowly changing. We’ve tried everything else and the problem has only gotten worse. The power of black churches to mobilize public sentiment and instill positive attitudes cannot be denied. We have only to remember the big players in the civil rights movement. So why not try the approach that MADDOX proposes in his OPED piece?

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