The Hard Questions May 8, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in Crime, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: 504, Crime, murder, New Orleans, NOLA, race
“And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.”
– Audie Lorde
“Last week, when I read the story of those guys that kicked in that door on Laharpe St. and shot those three people, the first thing I thought about was “well, at least they didn’t shoot the baby. Had they shot the baby too, we would have been outraged because the baby is not part of the game. Since they let the baby live, there is part of us that considers that kind of event part of the life those folks choose to live. The question is how can that be ok when the folks in question are our family, friends, classmates, and neighbors.”
Maybe it’s not my place to jump into this discussion, since his blog post directly addresses the local African-American community and bloggers of color in particular. (Not in that quote but in the longer piece). Me, I’m as white as a truck load of of Bunny Bread. But I live here, too, and not enough people of any sort are asking the hard question: how can we just let this go one because it’s “them”, whether that’s a class them (we’re not in the ‘hood, that’s not us) or a race question (they’re black, I’m white; that’s not us).
It’s the hard question everyone in every community in this town regardless of race or section needs to be asking themselves.
I think about this every day. Earlier this year, I posted up a list of all of the people who died violently in New Orleans on this site. And not a day goes by but someone comes by searching for one of those who died. I don’t know who George Hankton was, but there seem to be a lot of people with access to the internet who cared. Someone Googling that name shows up almost every day. Still, no one who knew him leaves a comment on that page. I’ve looked out on the net myself for any more info, but there are only a couple of cryptic “my cousin died” posts on My Space pages that are marked private. The Book wrote a post about his cousin Chanell Sanchell which prompted a post of my own, but most of those who die vanish into obscurity, forgotten by all but those who knew them personally.
What happened to George Hankton (age 40, not some punk kid) and Chanell Schanell should be the concern of everyone who choses to live here, who insists on making New Orleans home. The death of every person here by violence is your concern. If you think it’s not your concern, you’re probably reading the wrong web page. This blog is primarily about New Orleans, and if you think you care about New Orleans and don’t care about the young black men (and women) dying in the streets, well, then you don’t care about New Orleans as deeply as you think you do.
The problem is none of us know what to do about it. I don’t. Cliff admits he doesn’t. Our so-called leaders sure as hell don’t have a clue. But before we get to answers, at least we ought to be able to start with some questions. We’ll take the easy ones first. How did this come about? And what can I do today that will make it stop, someday? I don’t have the answer for the 13-year olds who were just busted for sticking people up in my neighborhood. They’re the age of my own son, and may be lost already. But they probably have little brother’s and sisters going to Recovery District schools. Will they even have a chance at something better, something other than what their brothers found? Are these siblings their only role models? What about the culture these kids pick up on TV and the radio glorifying what their “big” brothers did? What about the people who profit by recording and broadcasting that?
Who are these kids’ role models? What about everyone who fled certain parts of the city but stayed “in New Orleans” (if you tell people when you’re out of town that “I’m from New Orleans, then yes that’s you regardless of where you actually live). It doesn’t matter if you fled into the suburbs and Catholic school in the early ’60s or into the East and the magnet schools in the 70s and 80s: all the people who could make a difference–white and black–seem to have turned their back on the weakest among us. This city is ringed by churches full of Good Christians who seemed to have slept through all of the homilies they ever heard.
The kids who are killing and dying, and the families they come from, were left behind like too many animals in a too small a cage with not enough to eat, and you don’t need a degree in sociology to figure out how that plays out. And now many of the best and brightest of the people who grew up in the hard neighborhoods aren’t coming back from The Evacuation. They’ve discovered a place where jobs pay decently and the schools work. They’re the next wave of the middle-class out-of-poverty story, and how many of them are staying in Atlanta or Texas or Nashville?
I think only the hand of a loving god could reach down and pluck some teenager with a pistol in his waste band off the streets and save him. I’m pretty sure I can’t, and I doubt the rest of you could either. But we have to start somewhere. The first step is to decide to give a damn. The next step is to figure out the next step. If I knew what it was I’d be charging you $1,500 for the advice and trying to sell you the companion books and tapes. I don’t have the answers, but I have an inkling of what the questions are. And thanks to Cliff (and The Book and m.d. filter) the impulse to start to ask them. That’s a beginning.