Annette John-Hall: Black-on-black killings: An epidemic in need of a cure

Mayor Nutter , beginning his second term, said he planned to do more to find solutions to the high homicide rate.
Mayor Nutter , beginning his second term, said he planned to do more to find solutions to the high homicide rate. (LAURENCE KESTERSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 06, 2012

The paper read murder, Black on black murder,

The paper read murder, Black on black murder again

Murder again. . . . Is it genocide?

- Jay-Z and Kanye West, "Murder to Excellence"

Those gunshots that had you dropping to the floor on New Year's Eve? You know, the ones that traditionally ring in the new year?

They've become nothing more than an S.O.S., warning us that yes, domestic terrorism is alive and well in a city where brothers kill brothers - Philadelphia.

Talk about black-on-black crime: According to stats from the Philadelphia Police Department, 75 percent of 324 victims killed last year were African American men, while 80 percent of those doing the killing were - you guessed it - black males.

See, I read your comments. I know what you think.

It's "those animals" killing each other, not "us."

Well, consider the murder of pizza delivery man Ron Anderson.

Anderson, a husband and father of four, studying for his real estate license, thought he was delivering a pizza, some cheesesteaks, and wings to a Southwest Philly home Tuesday night.

Instead, the "big guy with a big laugh and a boyish smile," as my colleague Mike Newall described him, was ambushed and killed by a pair of assailants who ran away without even taking his money.

Here we are, six days into the new year, and already Anderson is the sixth homicide victim of 2012.

He may not have been your son or my son, but we should care precisely because he was somebody's son. He was "us." Those who killed him were criminals, but not animals. Animals can't be criminals. Only people can.

Tearing the social fabric

Too many guns, too many slights, and not enough hope are wiping out an entire generation of African American men. It's an epidemic happening in big cities all over the country, one Mayor Nutter is determined to tackle in his second term.

On Wednesday, after touring Point Breeze, a high-crime neighborhood in South Philly, the mayor said, "The general public, the press . . . there seems to be a general feeling that bad people kill each other and that's just the way it is.

"If there were planes crashing and trains derailing, we'd be doing something about it. If there were bags of spinach that were toxic, we'd pull them off the shelves. This rips apart the entire social fabric of our city."

A mother speaks

In October, Nutter invited a group of big-city mayors to the National Constitution Center to talk about solutions. There were plenty of initiatives tossed around and best practices shared.

The truth is, it's going to take a multipronged approach. More policing. Policies that address - as never before - poverty, education, and the proliferation of guns. And yes, it means taking responsibility for your actions - and, for parents, ownership of your children and their behavior.

"Plenty of people are talking about it, but not enough people are listening," says James Peterson, professor of Africana studies at Lehigh University. "Unfortunately, politicians don't see young black men as a viable voting bloc. . . . Politics is transactional, so the people who speak the loudest get the responses."

And black males, who, Nutter points out, "are at the bottom of good categories and at the top of negative categories," are systematically alienated into silence.

But some speak for them, even when it's too late.

On Wednesday, during his walk-by on 21st Street, the mayor stopped to chat with Michelle Burton, whose son Stephon, 24, had been gunned down in November. There have been no arrests.

"My son got killed a few feet away from here," Burton told me. "They have it on videotape, but no one will speak up, no one will tell. . . . It's not fair. I just want justice."

A mother's grief. She was talking about her son. She was talking about us.

Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986, Follow her on Twitter, @Annettejh.

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