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Jewish World Review /Nov. 20, 1998 /1 Kislev, 5759

Walter Williams

Tragedy in black neighborhoods

THE LEARNING CHANNEL and Discovery Channel both feature shows about medical trauma centers around the United States. Many trauma patients suffer from gunshot and stabbing wounds. Some of them are gang-bangers, but quite a few are innocent victims of drive-by shootings or stray bullets through walls or windows.

Doctors and social workers are shown consoling grieving friends and family members, sometimes having to tell them their loved one died, or is brain dead, or will never walk again.

Some of the justifications given for the shooting or stabbing by the victim, his family or friends defy imagination. The victim might have worn the wrong color jacket or looked at the perpetrator the wrong way. The victim might have stepped on the foot or brushed against the perpetrator, or he might have dated the wrong girl in the wrong neighborhood. Most often, the victim is black and the perpetrator is, not a policeman, not a white person but another black person.

Sometimes, the victim's family mentions the tragedy of day-to-day life in black neighborhoods, a life that no one should have to live. Nights punctuated by sounds of gunfire. People afraid to come to their windows or serving meals on the floor for fear of stray bullets. Parents wondering whether their children will get through a school day safely.

Parts of black life in some neighborhoods, not featured on TLC and Discovery programs, include law-abiding people living behind bars, facing wanton property destruction, traveling miles outside of their neighborhoods in order to access supermarkets and other stores.

What is seen today in black neighborhoods is entirely new. Psycho-babblers tell us it's a result of poverty, discrimination and a legacy of slavery. During the '40s and '50s, I lived in North Philadelphia's Richard Allen housing project. Nights were not punctuated by gunfire. Many residents seldom locked their doors. Within a few blocks, there were supermarkets and many stores that attracted both neighborhood and non-neighborhood shoppers, not to mention providing full-time and part-time employment opportunities. I hope there's no psycho-babbler stupid enough to explain North Philadelphia's, as well as other slum neighborhood's, greater civility in the '40s and '50s by saying back then blacks weren't as poor, didn't face as much discrimination and were unencumbered by a legacy of slavery.

What's seen in black neighborhoods is easy to explain: Black people have accepted it. You say, "Williams, what do you mean, black people accepted it?" Let me put it this way: Would black people sit still for the nonsense of psycho-babblers, politicians and civil-rights leaders if white thugs and sociopaths were coming to their neighborhoods shooting, stabbing and battering black people? My guess is black people would arm themselves and stop it. Being shot or stabbed by a black person is just as devastating as being shot or stabbed by a white person.

By the same token, black people living in fear and their neighborhoods being turned into wastelands by blacks should be no more tolerable than if the same thing was done by whites. It's not totally true that black people have accepted the day-to-day mayhem in their communities. Those with means to do so leave. But that's not an option for many. The solution calls for law-abiding black people to build an unyielding intolerance for crime and property destruction. If the civil authorities won't do their job of ensuring safety, that simply means black people must bring political pressure and at the same time organize privately to guarantee neighborhood safety -- by any means necessary.


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7/29/98: Education production

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.