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Thursday, August 5, 2010

A plea to young black men: Stop killing


August 5, 2010
Editor's note: This is the latest column by the author in an occasional series this summer on homicide.

Dear young black man,  They used to come for us cloaked in white sheets and hoods under the cover of night. Today they come in black hoodies and ski masks, both by day and by night.

They used to carry our boys away from home, never to be seen alive again. They used to string us up until we dangled like strange fruit from poplar trees, dumped our bodies in murky rivers or beat us in lynch mobs beyond recognition by our own mothers.

Today, they carry us away in the trunks of cars, leave our young, strong and promising sons, brothers and fathers riddled with bullets, lying naked near railroad tracks, in alleys or fields. They come for us by murderous mob, gun down our young as they play outside, even our mothers, daughters at bus stops and our babies as they sit innocently in strollers.

Today, the carnage of their homicidal rampage has left an almost endless trail of bodies and bloodstained streets.

Except they used to be the Ku Klux Klan.

But today, they is you. Oh, young black man.

The Tuskegee Institute in Alabama recorded 3,446 lynchings of blacks from 1882 to 1968 -- the toll of 86 years. The toll of blacks murdered in Chicago alone over 18 years, from 1991 to 2009: nearly 9,500, and counting.

The numbers alone say you have put the Klan to shame in the killing of African Americans and the terrorizing of black communities.

There is no other way to put it: You have become our -- your -- worst enemy.

It is not by any means the majority of you who are responsible for this fratricide that causes hearse wheels to roll through our neighborhoods like the wind blows.

There are many young brothers striving to keep the faith, living according to the law, seeking to give more than they take -- good, promising young men. My letter is not to you but to those who on the surface look like you -- those who have allowed evil and hatred to transform them into predators.

Dear brother, as a human being, it is a difficult tragedy to behold. As a black man, it is sometimes even more than I can bear.

So I write to you, amid news of the slaying of 13-year-old Robert Freeman, shot 13 times while riding his bike, and on the heels of nine people shot at a bus stop.

I write even as the dust settles upon the graves of the latest homicide victims, and in the midst of a long, hot and bloody summer in which the death bell will toll and toll again before its end.

I am writing because statistics show that you most often are our killers. Because young brothers involved in gangs, armed with guns, brazen and filled with rage and no regard for human life, are responsible for the gunfire that has transformed neighborhoods across America into terror zones fueled by urban tribal wars.

I write to you in the hope that, contrary to popular opinion, some of you do read, in hope that you might hear the plea of one whose cries reflect the agony of a nation.

So I beg you: Lay down your guns, for the sake of the children, for the sake of our people.

I write to tell you that real power is not in the taking of life but in the giving of life; to inform you that murder is pure evil, and also to share this truth: He that lives by the sword will surely die by the sword, and he who takes a life unjustly will surely have to answer -- in this life, or the next.

It isn't the white man who is making our dear mothers cry.

It's you, young black man.
And why?

How many of us have to die?

Signed with tears, your brother John.

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John W. Fountain, whose column runs on Thursdays in the Sun-Times, is a professor of journalism at Roosevelt University.

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