Same Old Story

(10:00PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

The Field Negro is a lawyer who lives in Philadelphia. He regularly reports on what he calls “Killadelphia,” his name for tracking the murder rate in his city (13 so far in the 26 days this year). And this weekend, he told the story of Dwayne Ramsey.

Earlier Tuesday, Dwayne had gone for his annual medical check-up, his mother said yesterday. He’d just gotten paid from his job at the McDonald’s in Plymouth Meeting.

The family returned home to watch the presidential inauguration and remained in high spirits the rest of the night, she said.

Later on, she grew hungry and Dwayne offered to treat.

He left and almost immediately Ramsey said she felt something was wrong.

‘I heard the shots and I got a sinking feeling,’ she said, her voice quivering.

She flung the blanket that was draped over her onto the floor, threw on a pair of pants, and, forgoing a coat, ran out.

On the corner, police and a crowd of curious neighbors had already congregated by the time she arrived. Ramsey tried to reach her son, who lay riddled with bullets on a small grassy area, but was held back by cops.


Turns out its just another case of black boys killing black boys. Hardly news these days. According to a study recently completed by Northeastern University:

…the number of black murder victims rose by more than 31 percent from 2000 to 2007. The number of murders involving young, black perpetrators rose by 43 percent over the same period…

I can hear the despair in “The Field’s” voice as he reports this story. He’s valiantly trying to scream about this to see if anyone cares. And he feels pretty hopeless that anyone will do anything about it.

While I certainly hope that the people who killed Dwayne are brought to justice, if we wait until this moment to begin solving this issue, we also have to wait until Dwayne is dead. That’s too late. Its time we begin to swim upstream on this one.

The reality is that most kids living in large urban environments today are living in a war zone. A war brought on by hopelessness and responded to by occupation/militarization.  Just as Hillary Clinton talked last week about needing to use smart power in our foreign affairs, I’d say its time to pay a little attention to that when it comes to domestic concerns as well. And we’ve got a lot of work to do in that arena. Recently the New York ACLU produced a report titled Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Public Schools. We’ve long ago accepted the idea of police in our schools. Instead of dealing with issues in relationship, we are increasingly criminalizing behavior. Just as an example, where I work we recently dealt with a 5th grader who had been arrested in the school cafeteria for throwing food. Can you imagine how many of us would have started a criminal record early if that had been the standard when we were growing up?

And its not just our schools. Where I live we’re seeing an increase of the use of police officers in libraries, recreation centers, and in neighborhoods to solve the problem of youth misbehaving. So rather than dealing with these issues, teachers, librarians, rec leaders and neighbors call the cops. What we know from the research is that the younger a child is when he/she has their first encounter with law enforcement, the more likely they are to become a chronic offender. There are many threads that contribute to this. But certainly one of them is the experience of being labeled a criminal at an early and impressionable age.

I’m not advocating that we just hug these kids and sing kumbaya with them. A little tough love and accountability is in order. But I’d like to see the teachers, librarians, rec leaders and neighbors act like adults and step into these kids lives with something other than fear and cops.

The Field ends his piece sounding pretty hopeless.

Yes it’s me, field, the party pooper , bringing once again a dose of reality to these cheerful and euphoric post inauguration times. So here we are in Killadelphia, just two hours from the coronation, and it’s more teddy bears, flowers, and another funeral home getting paid.

We have been down this road before, and everyone who comments here has grappled with this problem and struggled to find the answers. The truth is, we are still struggling, and those of us who care are out here every day fighting the good fight. A fight, that sadly, we are still losing. And as much as I wish it wasn’t true, somehow I don’t think having a man leading our country who looks like the perpetrators and the victims will make any difference.

I agree with you Field. This is one we’re all going to have to work on together. Just electing a Black man as President won’t make it go away. But every little bit helps. Last week one of our African American staff who works in a middle school with kids who are chronically suspended for bad behavior (90% African American and 70% male), said that lately when he’s talking to these kids, he asks them, “What do you think Obama would do?” The interesting thing is, the kids actually care about that and it seems to help. Of course, much more important than that is the fact that they have someone sitting right in front of them who’s holding them accountable and caring about their lives. THAT’s the real answer!!!    


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  1. here’s another great video from Ill Doctrine.

    • Alma on January 26, 2009 at 19:31

    The action for that seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way.

    This really hit me NL:

    While I certainly hope that the people who killed Dwayne are brought to justice, if we wait until this moment to begin solving this issue, we also have to wait until Dwayne is dead. That’s too late. Its time we begin to swim upstream on this one.

    There are so many we are too late for, and so many more to come if we don’t make progress.  No we can’t save them all, but by golly we can try.

  2. … in this essay, I wouldn’t know where to blockquote.

    Was reading Gentilly Girl – a French Quarter bartender was just shot and killed, a friend of hers.

    New Orleans has regular marches since Katrina to get the community involved in the militarization of our so-called civil society.

    It’s important to look at what’s happening in Killadelphia and it will impact on all of us.

    I have NEVER grown used to the idea of cops in schools, it made me sick when I first heard about it and it disgusts me now.  Hardly need to tell you about that because you’ve helped create programs that refute that nonsense in action, not just words.

  3. but I’m willing to hug these kids and sing Kumbaya to them.  I bet that works to make peace at least as well as plan b.  And far better than calling the cops.

    The studies, iirc, say as you point out that the earlier there’s police contact, the more likely recidivism is.  And also, and this is the big one, that the more intensive the initial contacts are (arrest, detention, court, probation as opposed to sending the kid home, telling him to cut it out), the more likely recidivism is.

  4. …a strong, poignant, much-needed diary about a very tragic subject.  Thank you NL.  I wish I could say something positive, but all I can come up with is that we must keep trying.  

    We have had the knowledge for decades.  Yet we do nothing about it, and it just keeps getting worse.  Here in California we’ve been dealing with the BART Police shooting an unarmed man in the back while lying on his stomach on the ground on New Years.  The young black man was saying to the police, “Don’t taser me.  Please don’t taser me.  I have a 3 year old daughter.”  And the policeman shot him in the back, and he died.  What a travesty.  What is wrong with us?

    Forty years ago there were many studies showing that the inordinant amount of violence on TV contributed to aberant behavior.  So what did we, as a society, do with that information?  Nothing!  Despite the warning, we have more violence on TV now than in the sixties, way way more.  And we have more violence and more killing.

    What to do?  I could cry a river!  

  5. Seriously.  The murder rate in Philly is very high…and there are no state forestlands there for hunting.  A few years ago the the mayor of Philly wanted to impose tough handgun laws (similar to what NYC did in the 1990s, to get guns off the streets) and the lege refused to alter PA’s one-size-fits-all gun laws.

    No way.  The state lege decided it was more important to have uniform gun laws throughout the state, never mind that people in Potter County (pop. 154–I jest but you get the idea) live in a completely different world from people in Philly, Pittsburgh, and even here in Lancaster, where our lax gun control laws pave the way to shootings (I know the grandfather of a 7-year-old girl who was shot in the street, apparently accidentally, only a block away from me–thank god she lived) and murders (there was one here over the weekend: unarmed woman shot 5 or 7 times in the back…may have been a dispute among thieves, according to the scuttlebutt, but still…) not to mention the guy who murdered a bunch of kids in a one-room Amish schoolhouse a couple of years ago.

    At one point in the early or mid 1980s, PA was one of the top two states (the other was Virginia) for criminals to black-market illegal guns into NYC.

    My point is: Gun policy is NOT one-size-fits-all.  The hunters here stock their freezers with the bucks they get, and very well might need handguns if the buck is wounded but not yet dead.  But our cities need stricter standards.  And the legislature refuses to recognize that simple fact.

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