Archive for Sunday, December 2, 2007

One man’s death a symbol for how ‘we’ die

December 2, 2007


And once again, this is how we die.

Fallen, crumpled, bleeding from a bullet's hole. Woman and child left to wail, left to mourn. Left.

It was, of course, not a "we" who died that way last week in Miami, but a "he," NFL star Sean Taylor, 24, shot in his home by a burglar. But maybe we can be forgiven, we black people in general, we black men in particular, for placing a "we" where others would a "he," for seeing in the fate of this singular individual all the brothers and sisters we have wept and mourned and given back to the soil. Maybe we can be forgiven for feeling the only difference is that the world knows his name and did not know theirs.

And this is how we die. We die in profligate numbers. Just under 15,000 Americans were murdered in 2006. Roughly half of them - 7,421 - were black. African-Americans are 12 percent of the nation's population.

And this is how we die. We die young. Of the 7,421 African-American murder victims of 2006, 3,028 - better than 40 percent - were Sean Taylor's age or less.

And this is how we die. We kill one another. Of the 3,303 African-American murder victims whose assailants are known to authorities, 92 percent were killed by other blacks.

It's easy to make too much of that last statistic. After all, murder, like other violent crime, tends to be a segregated thing. About 82 percent of white murder victims owe their demise to another white person, yet one never hears lamentations about the scourge of "white on white" crime. Violent crime is, more than anything, a matter of proximity and opportunity.

Still, with all that said, that difference of 10 percentage points of likelihood whispers a soft suggestion that sometimes, we don't much value us, that some of us have learned to see our lives the way the nation historically has: as cheap and lacking in worth. Note that even before three suspects were detained Friday, it was being taken for granted by some Internet posters and at least one black columnist that Taylor's assailant would prove to be black. That is a dangerous, and potentially embarrassing, assumption. But at the same time, no one will exactly be shocked if police end up parading disheveled black kids past television cameras.

Because this is how we die.

We die shot in the head and shot in the gut and shot in the back and shot in the chest and shot in the thigh. We die on asphalt and on concrete, and lying in bed and slumped against refrigerators and prostrate on gurneys in the back of ambulances hurtling down city streets and quietly inside, too, in the soul a little, at the carnage our communities become.

We die and it goes unremarked, die so much it's hardly news anymore. A child dies from random bullets or a famous man dies at a burglar's hand and the media are all over it, yeah. But 12 percent of the nation is 50 percent of the murder victims and it's mainly business as usual. No government task force convenes to tell us why this is. No rallying cries ring from podiums and pulpits. Crowds do not march as they did in Jena, La., demanding justice.

But one could argue that murder is the greatest injustice of all. And life the most fundamental of civil rights.

We ought not - "I" ought not - deny Sean Taylor his singularity, his personhood, in the rush to make him a symbol. So let us say here for the record: No, this is not 7,421 murders. This is one. One heartbeat stilled. One child fatherless. One family shattered. One.

I understand all that. Still, maybe we can be forgiven for feeling that, in the broadest outlines, we've seen this story before. Because this is how we die. And yes, Sean Taylor is one man.

But he's also one more.

- Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


50YearResident 10 years ago

Leonard has acknowledged the problem, now someone needs to find a solution. It can only be done from within the Black community. Does anyone have any ideas on this?

bearded_gnome 10 years ago

what Spywell is referring to is called the thug culture. and it is the major reason for such disproportionate murders among black males, along with institutionalized hopelessness, welfare distruction of the two parent family, and this is slowly spreading into the general american culture beyond the black subculture.

surprised Pitts didn't confront head-on the thug culture. it is why Last Call had to be closed. glorification of drugs and guns instead of hard work, personal integrity, and family unity. Pitts doesn't deserve the pulitzer for this collumn, not at all.

Sharon Roullins 10 years ago

All black on black killings are not "thug-life" motivated. It's just those type of stories that make the headlines and are forever paraded in our faces. True, there are killings in other race/cultures but I feel that Mr. Pitts is trying to make a point. The suspects in this case weren't planning on killing Sean; he wasn't supposed to be home. Well, the fact that a gun was involved must have been an indication to these four "knuckleheads" that it would be used, whether to frighten the occupants or to use it with deadly force. They chose the latter and now they must pay. Pay for their ignorance. Pay for their decision to take something from someone else without working for it themselves. Pay for their crimes because of their skin color. It is very frustrating to see anyone die from senseless violence and yet it hurts more so when it is one of your own. Whether listening to rap music or not, these four individuals took it upon themselves to justify taking something that did not belong to them. And in the process, someone died, someone is left to mourn, someone is left without a parent, a son, a team mate. It is senseless black on black crimes that almost go unreported until the victim(s) are in the spotlight. Then it becomes acknowledged that there is a problem within the community but there are no real answers, no feasible solutions to combat the problem. I've said it for years and I will say it again.................I don't see a color when there is a crime committed. Instead of fattening frogs for snakes, don't waste taxpayers money housing deathrow inmates and murderers. Pack their "need to kill" behinds overseas, make a soldier out of them and let them fight on the front line. Will this solve the problem? Who knows.

Sharon Roullins 10 years ago

I really don't see Mr. Pitts blaming whitey Mr_Ramirez. "We" is being referred to the Black community and unless you've experienced it, you wouldn't know that and I don't expect you to know. He's not blaming anyone but those involved.

igby 10 years ago

Disrespect! Every breath of air some of them breath expels disrespect.

Example: Rap music.

Disrespect is on Rap music like retarded is on country music, lol. Please forgive me if your offended but country music today is not what it used to be. Its semi-twiked for methmania and has very little to do with main stream American country living. Retarded, yep, get over it.

Amusing and both entertaining but the truth is......the more money we throw at the problem as a nation seems to make it grow more so, and until now, its very popular culture. Driven by contraband trade and greased with violence.

Disrespect is now so popular that the majority of these young people could not make a right decision or have not made a right decision their entire lives. It would seem so unnatural too them to do the right thing regarding their home life or children, that doing the right thing would feel so wrong to them.

The future generations of youth in America will be so different and incompatible that the divisions of class will be such that its hard to imagine them living in peace with each other.

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