“Black Homicides Reach ‘Crisis’ in Nashville”

Since the website of The Tennessean had deleted Brian Haas’s article, discussed in the previous entry, I looked for copies of it elsewhere online. Many blogs had linked it at the time it was published, but none had copied it. Fortunately, however, one site, blackchristiannews.com, had copied the first 930 words, over 40 percent of the piece, and I copied it here. Then a reader found the full article, at blackamericans.com, and I’ve replaced the partial copy with the full copy.

Black Homicides Reach ‘Crisis’ in Nashville
April 10, 2011 11:55 AM

It’s a beautiful day outside, and Marcus McGee is smiling.

He didn’t always smile. In fact, he rarely flashed that infectious grin until a girl told him he’d be more popular with the opposite sex if he loosened up a bit.

He always smiles now, next to an engraved message: “Marcus A. McGee. In God’s hands.”

Two men shot and killed McGee, 19, in 2008 as he closed the gas station where he worked.

After church every Sunday his family visits him at Greenwood

Cemetery. They sweep off his grave marker and unclasp a brass lid revealing his photo.

“Look at him, he’s smiling,” says his mother, Jacci McGee-Russell, at his grave. “He was just an all-around good person.”

Nearby are the graves of Kenneth Crawley, Christopher Evans-Hayes, Gordon Garrett, Lindbergh Thompson, Andre Veals, Tre mayne Woods, Wanda Kaye Henderson Hol den, Michael Goins, Linda Butler, Tyrone Collins, Brandon Muhammad, Tyrone Davis, Sean Holmes Sr., Alexandra Franklin, DarSean Campbell, Antoni Morton and Jerald Hicks.

All were murdered in 2008. That year, Tennessee had the nation’s fifth-highest rate of black homicides, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center. Nashville, with 42 black murder victims, had a rate higher than the state overall, and in 2009 its rate rose to surpass even Memphis’.

In Nashville if you are African-American, you are four to five times more likely to be murdered than if you are white. While the rate of white homicides has declined over the past several years, black homicides have increased, according to the latest data.

The victims range in age from a newborn who was beaten to death to a 54-year-old man fatally shot in his car on his drive home from work. Motives vary: abuse, domestic problems, drugs, gang activity, robberies. Some were students, parents. Others were gang members and drug dealers.

“We cannot wait until some prominent person gets killed or is the victim of a crime to wake up and say let’s do something about it,” said Metro Councilman Jerry Maynard. “This is a crisis, and we have to have ownership by the entire community.”

A sense of hopelessness

Why are Nashville’s black residents, particularly its black youths, at such risk? Answers are hard to find. Political, religious and law enforcement leaders rattle off a collection of possible reasons: geographic isolation, economics, Nashville’s racial history, politics, the breakdown of families, a lack of father figures, not enough jobs or recreation. Some blame movies, video games or rap music.

“In our own city, we have kids that see the rest of the world on TV, they see it across the street. How do I get from where I am to graduate high school, to graduate college, to get a job?” said Metro Police Chief Steve Ander son. “The reduction in federal funding for police prevention programs, for police outreach programs, is also going to have an effect.”

Colin Loftin, professor of criminology at the University of Albany, State University of New York, said that research has conclusively linked only one major factor to high homicide rates: poverty.

“Statistically, the big factor that’s consistent over time and place is economic status. You have very, very few homicides in a middle-class population,” he said.

Nashville’s black residents are almost twice as likely to have incomes below the poverty level, 2009 census data show. The average African-American family of four with two children brought in less than $22,000 a year.

Leaders say a sense of hopelessness in the poorest areas of the black community dominates attitudes.

“Those are the ones that are dangerous,” Maynard said. “Because they feel they have no future.”

Some of Nashville’s black victims in 2008 were victims of their own decisions.

Kim Maupin tried desperately to help her son. He didn’t want to go to school and struggled with depression. He smoked pot, ran with the wrong crowd. By age 16, he had joined a gang.

“I actually cried to the judge, I asked the judge to lock him up,” she said. “He violated several times, and if they had locked him up, they’d have saved his life.”

Christopher Evans, 16, was shot dead Nov. 26, 2008, at Riverchase Apartments. Maupin remembers getting the phone call.

“People were saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” she said.

Police don’t yet know the motive for his murder.

Maupin remembers that her son loved to laugh and lived for family functions. She acknowledges that he made bad decisions. But he was still just a kid.

“There was another side to him,” she said. “He had a lot of heart. I’m lost for words with what Chris was thinking.”

And now, Christopher’s 2-year-old daughter, Tianna, is being raised by a young, single mother.

Christopher’s experience is not uncommon in Nashville’s urban areas, said Bishop George Price, pastor at Bethesda Original Church of God and one of several ministers working with Metro police to counsel families touched by crime. He said many children grow up knowing little more than the small world around them, a world that includes drugs, prostitution and violence on a daily basis. Navigating those streets becomes an exercise in survival, and anything that aids that survival is quickly adopted.

“I am out here by myself. Here come the Bloods. The Crips. They say, ‘We’ll take care of you,’ ” Price said. “Nobody seems to care. Nobody loves me. Gangs tell you, ‘We love you, be a part of us.’ I’m gonna die anyway, so I might as well go this way.”

Metro police have estimated that there are 2,500 gang members in Nashville.

‘This is another world’

Lisa Crawley still lives at the J.C. Napier public housing development, just blocks from where she heard the shots that killed her son, Kenneth.

On Aug. 3, 2008, she was relaxing on her porch when she heard gunshots down the street. For some reason, her panic compelled her to run toward the commotion along University Court.

“When I got up there, someone said it was Kenneth,” she said. “You know how people say your life can turn around in a second? My life changed dramatically. It’s like your insides are empty.”

Kenneth died the next day. He was 18.

He loved playing basketball and swimming. His mother misses grilling him cheeseburgers. She’s scared to live in that apartment, but she can’t find work and can’t afford to move.

“About a week ago, somebody got shot over there, a young little boy. He was in bad shape,” Crawley said. “I’m scared to go to the store in the evening.”

Her son was killed while walking to his aunt’s home. Police said it was probably a case of mistaken identity or “misplaced retaliation.”

It is public housing developments like J.C. Napier, Sam Levy and James Cayce where much of this violence has occurred.

“The public in general doesn’t realize this is another world you’re driving by each day,” Police Chief Anderson said. “There is another world that you don’t recognize that needs your support, that needs your attention. They really don’t understand what’s going on in the inner city.”

Metro police say most of Nashville’s homicide victims knew their killers or had criminal records. But there are plenty of victims of circumstance.

Marcus McGee had been working at the Swifty gas station for only about
two weeks when he was killed. The job was to help pay for college. He was attending Nashville State Community College with plans to go into sports medicine.

McGee-Russell remembers the night of April 28, 2008, well. “My last words to him were, ‘Marcus, be careful,’ ” she said.

He tried to run from the robbers and was shot in the back. The killers were never caught.

“He was working to go to college. Couldn’t ask for a better child,” McGee-Russell said. “He never gave me any trouble.”

To lament only the “innocent” deaths is to ignore the larger problem, leaders say.

Gunbattles between rival gangs or drug dealers often lead to collateral damage. A 16-year-old was struck by a stray bullet May 21, 2008, on Acklen Avenue in West Nashville. A year later, Lauren Johnson, 16, was killed while sitting in her Bellshire home when a group opened fire on her street.

“If you don’t do anything about this, this will spread to areas outside the pockets of crime,” Maynard said. “Crime has no boundaries. You might find yourself on the other side of the barrel of a gun. Or your child might find himself in harm’s way.”

‘They need love’

Hope for Nashville’s black community right now rests mostly in a small group of faith-based groups and churches.

Last week, Nashville Inner City Ministry raised more than $230,000 at a two-day fish fry at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds to benefit Nashville’s lost children. A good haul, but not enough when compared with the scope of the problem.

The group’s executive director, the Rev. Lytle Thomas, has been working for more than 30 years with children in Nashville’s most violent areas. He and his workers drive through those neighborhoods and pick up children for camp, after-school activities and tutoring. They help pay for food and clothes and help find jobs and counseling.

He said most of Nashville’s at-risk black children grow up in broken homes, surrounded by danger.

“They develop a sense of survival so they make these decisions based on survival,” he said. “People need to hear that they are worth something, that they are not worthless. They’re growing up struggling, and they’re growing up in hopelessness.”

And yet, some children have overcome their surroundings.

Antwain Rucker, 18, lives in South Nashville and said growing up was not easy.

“You see a whole lot of drugs, violence, prostitution,” he said. “Young kids, whatever they see, they pick up on it.”

James Osborne, 18, still lives at J.C. Napier and sees those pressures daily.

“You grow up and with the thought that you should be what everybody else is,” Osborne said. “You’re constantly getting invitations to gangs, like it was an invitation to church.”

And Tiffany Dixon, 34, who grew up in the Sam Levy housing project, sums up what Thomas believes is the secret to helping children escape lives of crime.

“When the kids come home from school, they’re seeing gunfights. You’re not comfortable in your home. You can’t sleep by the window because you’re afraid of getting hit by a bullet,” she said. “They need love, they want to be accepted.”

All-out effort urged

After McGee and Franklin were killed, community leaders called for a ceasefire, an end to the violence in the black community. The deaths continued, unabated, with a 31 percent increase in black homicides the following year.

“These organizations and the individuals, I applaud them for what they’re doing,” Maynard said. “But they’re making brick without straw. They’re trying to confront a problem that is comprehensive, and they don’t have the resources necessary.”

Maynard said the community needs a response akin to the one after last May’s flood: an all-out effort.

“We didn’t just have isolated organizations working. The city came together from the leadership of not only the mayor and the council, but everyone came together,” he said. “Black-on-black crime is not a black problem. It’s a Nashville problem because tourists will not come here, businesses will not come here. We will strangle economic growth if we do not come to a solution to this.”

Back at McGee’s grave, his family members talk about the good times they had together.

“I had 19 years, and a lot of parents don’t get that. A lot of parents don’t get a year,” his mother says. “He’s like a guardian angel for me.”

The family pauses to take one last look at that grin. She bends down to get closer. Touches that smiling face.

And then she closes the lid on his picture.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 15, 2011 06:11 PM | Send

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