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Blood and Silence

Black-on-black violence must be faced head-on

October 26, 2003|Kerman Maddox | Kerman Maddox is a political consultant and business owner who teaches political science at Los Angeles Southwest College. He is a member of the board of directors of First AME Church, the oldest black church in Los Angeles.

Among all the senseless killings in L.A. County, there's one I can't seem to get out of my mind.

Lee Denmon, my former student at Los Angeles Southwest College, was a charming young man and a good student. He respected his elders, stayed out of trouble, worked hard, studied diligently and graduated from college. Then, wanting to help others follow his path, he returned to his community, Inglewood, with dreams of making a difference.

Instead, Denmon became at 23 another ugly statistic in the war of young black men against other young black men. Lee Denmon III was gunned down in his parents' driveway earlier this year, apparently mistaken by gangbangers for someone else. He wasn't killed by white supremacists or by a racist police officer: Police say he was killed by someone living in the same neighborhood, someone who looked like him.

Some leaders in the African American community reading this article may be unhappy with me, but I'm tired of being politically correct, because that has not helped the problem.

What has troubled me deeply since Denmon's murder in March is the community's reaction to it. There wasn't one. He was mourned by his family and friends, and then life went on.

Compare that with what happened during the summer of 2002, when an Inglewood police officer slammed an African American teenager onto the hood of his police car. Civil rights and political leaders from around the country immediately converged on Inglewood and demanded action. Ministers and politicians organized urgent town hall meetings, candlelight vigils were held and people from around the Southland marched, demanding swift action from the justice system.

What gives? It's not that I condone police violence, but how can we be so alarmed when a white officer appears to have abused a black teenager and so nonchalant about the routine killing of young black males by other young black males? Just imagine the reaction if Denmon had been murdered by a white skinhead.

California just recalled its governor because he misled voters about the size of the budget deficit, reacted too slowly to the energy crisis, tripled the state's car tax and had all the personality of a spit wad. The recall rage captured the attention of the masses, the media followed, and before you could spell terminator, the recall qualified, an election was held and Gov. Gray Davis was thrown out of office. How can we generate that kind of rage about violence in the African American community?

The violence is so prevalent that I have young African American male students arriving late to my Tuesday evening class at Southwest College because their parents won't let them walk to school or take the bus through gang-plagued neighborhoods. If white college kids in Westwood could not walk to their evening classes at UCLA because of neighborhood violence, there would be immediate action.

If someone as obscure as anti-tax advocate Ted Costa could lead a movement to bring down the governor of California, imagine the possibilities if African American leadership got together for a weekend summit with one agenda item: black-on-black crime and what to do about it.

Now, I understand that our community, like all communities, has its differences. Baptists disagree with Methodists, younger activists disagree with traditional civil rights groups, business folks disagree with community groups. Our political leaders are often at odds with one another. But the violence is so great and the loss of life so significant that we all need to set aside our differences and focus on solutions.

I know it's considered inappropriate to air dirty laundry outside the neighborhood, but silence is not stopping the mayhem. It's time to quit blaming everybody else for the problems of violence in our communities. We need churches to launch a crusade to discuss individual responsibility. We need parents to be more involved with their children and talk with them from an early age about respecting their communities. We need to identify gang members willing to give up that lifestyle and help them reform. But any gangbangers unwilling to stop the violence and death need to be removed from the community.

A weekend summit before the end of the year with civil-rights, religious, political and community leaders dedicated to starting a movement to stop the violence in our communities would be a great way to start. The summit needs to focus specifically on what our leaders in Washington -- working in concert with officials in Sacramento and with local leaders in Inglewood, Compton and Los Angeles -- can do about stopping the violence.

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