Thursday, July 06, 2006


So this morning I got on the train, picked up the free weekly newspaper, and began to read this article by a sista whose writing always entertains, or at least provokes thought:

You Wouldn't Snitch Either (If you knew it would get you killed), Kia Gregory

Then, as I meandered through the blocks between my train stop and work, I passed about three homeless people, and at least two people who were lost in their own world and talking to themselves. (Actually, one of them was singing gospel on a bike and seemed to be following me.) I thought to myself, in a fleeting moment of doubt, what am I getting myself into, moving into the city? Isn't this what I pursued higher education to get away from? I was raised just over the bridge, in a city named most dangerous in America (most violence per capita) more times than anyone there wants it to be true. I grew up staying away from bad areas and going elsewhere for fun and shopping and resenting suburbanites who I was sure were judging me based on my city and zip code. On the one foot, I wanted to go away and never come back. On the other, I wanted to come back and save the world.

I suppose that on both feet, I was half right. I went away. But I'm back in the area, and I'm about to leave my Mayberry-like Southern New Jersey hamlet (replete with VFW posts, little league, and a ladies auxiliary) at the end of this month for the city. A city in which a four year old child gets shot and noone can say anything, because the thugs are stronger than the people, the cops, and the law. I don't know nothing about how to save the world.

I wrote about snitching before. I stand by everything that I said, even though, even at that time, I realized that certain circumstances needed to apply for my utopian vision of functional community to be possible. One of those circumstances would have to be safety for the people, from the people. Other articles I've read suggest that existing witness relocation programs do not work. We can't trust the cops to protect us. Ms. Gregory does an excellent job of pointing out the problem for those who didn't already know about it.

The problem is the solution - if we knew what it was, we'd have done it already.

The other problem is apathy. Upon finishing her article, your average person, myself included, will think, "damn, that's a shame," then fold the paper up and toss it on a shelf. Don't misread those four words for concern. Those are merely the obligatory words of acknowledgment. I remember thinking this morning that the neighborhood I'm moving into and the neighborhoods I find myself in when visiting friends are nothing like the one I grew up in - nothing like the one in which this child was shot. I am blessed. But does that mean that the problem isn't mine? Alternatively, what makes the problem mine? The threat that thugs who are stronger than the people, the cops, and the law could, upon gaining strength, find good business in my neighborhood one day? The fact that the people in those violent neighborhoods look just like me and my family and my friends, and by extension and various degrees of separation are my family? The fact that my tax dollars will probably work harder to incarcerate and chase those we have a chance at locking up than they will to educate those who probably wouldn't get locked up if we just got them some damn textbooks? And if this problem is my problem too, I wonder, then what should I be doing about it, 'cause frankly, I don't know.

The problem is the solution - if we knew what it was, we'd have done it already.

I can't make grown boys become adult men and make them - rather, teach them how - to love and mentor their own and others' children in the wake of their fathers' absences. I don't have the mass appeal to compete with the gangsta culture that grips our children's imaginations from an early age. I can't stop the guns and drugs from coming into communities where they are neither manufactured nor grown. I can't suspend and completely overhaul and adequately fund the educational and criminal justice systems. I can't make parents talk with their children, expose their children to more than cable and the radio and the streets, discipline their children when they're bad, or set good examples of work ethic and responsibility for their children. I can't open up the job market to receive the people who need to make a living wage, neither can I train the people for these non-existent jobs. I can't pistol whip hardheaded young white tee wearers who won't go to school. I can't address the mental health issues and the chemical dependencies that fuel the demand for rocks, blow, dope, weed, and let's not forget those pills. I can't make the Witness Protection Programs effective. I can't make people who don't care, care. I can't change our economy's ethos to people over profit.

Obviously there are too many causes, and true solutions would address them all. I suppose it would make sense to say that everyone needs to take up a shovel and start digging where they can. Stop pretending that this isn't everyone's problem. 'Cause we're all paying for it. Some by taxes, others by carjacking, muggings, and burglary, higher prices because of stock "shrinkage" and thefts, higher insurance premiums, and the like. Others by pediatric emergency surgery. Small casket after small casket. Funeral after funeral after funeral.

The Messiah said the poor will always be with us. He didn't say we are justified in pretending they're not there or that their lives aren't worthy of saving.

That said, after all that soapbox pondering... I am still at a loss for what I am personally supposed to actually do. Where should my shovel dig? At least, where can my chisel chip? Perhaps I can use my poetry to inspire young minds, like some other poets are doing? (And which I find difficult to do, since I have to work while the kids are in school.) Any suggestions? Are you inspired enough to try to figure out what you can do? Are you not convinced that this is your problem too? No matter their ruthless ways, there are still more of us than there are of them. Short of streetfighting, something has to give us a fighting chance against the violence that kills innocent people. Give me back real talk.