10.05.2016

Where Black Lives Don’t Seem to Matter



I am proud to say I run in fairly diverse circles when it comes to race and ethnicity.  What with all of the talk about race due to police shootings and “Black Lives Matter” and this presidential election cycle, I have benefited from hearing from and hurting for African-American friends of mine as they have shared the wisdom and the struggle in their life perspectives.

One way that my social network is not very diverse, though, is socio-economic.  Most of the people I interact with online and in person are reasonably well educated (and a good chunk are extremely well educated), and very few are dirt poor. 

Of course, in Philadelphia and in other big cities, a huge chunk of the population is extremely poor.  And, in Philadelphia as in some of those big cities, a pretty big portion of that low-income population is black.  And so while I feel fairly attuned to the educated black experience in America, I do not feel very close to the experience of being black and poor in America. 

But I am not totally distant from it.  While we live in a wonderful racially diverse and mixed-income neighborhood in University City, we are not far from pockets of West Philadelphia that are fairly low-income.  My kids and I are well acquainted with these streets, and the stark juxtaposition with our part of the city doesn’t escape us as we take in block after block of cracked sidewalks and boarded up homes and low-end retail.

I recall last week doing my usual run to and then from the local Y.  It was very early in the morning so the sun was not yet up.  As I left the Y, the bar across the street caught my eye, and reminded me that this is where the shooting last month took place that received some national coverage.  As I ran home, I realized I was retracing the gunman’s last steps, as he fled from the bar down the street to the car dealership, where he was killed by police. 

I tried to think about what must have been going through his mind.  In and out of trouble with the law, he had had a beef with his parole officer and with law enforcement in general.  Like so many in this city, he must have felt that the whole world was against him.  I do not know his specific situation but I have met young people and been in neighborhoods where there is nothing in their lives but poverty and its effects, layered on top of the subtle and not so subtle discrimination faced by young people of color in America’s cities. 

I do not at all excuse the shooter for shooting up a cop car and certainly not for spontaneously deciding to shoot at and kill an innocent woman down the block.  He is guilty of a terrible and heinous offense.  But that fact co-exists with the reality that his reality was so bleak that he would choose to do what he did, to heck with the criminal punishment or life consequences he surely knew he would face.

Black lives do matter in this country.  But, in many parts of this country, including in my own city, not far from where my family and I lay their heads at night, some young black people are not given hardly any evidence that they do in fact matter.  And that is a troubling reality with dire and occasionally fatal consequences.
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