By Rev. Dr. Harold Carter Jr.
I kind of recall hearing a report about a shooting in Edmondson Village involving several young persons recently. The news came after I returned home from our midweek worship service on Wednesday, Jan. 4, but it didn’t really register.
When I woke up Thursday morning I heard, with greater clarity. After which, I shared the information with my wife, Monique, as she was preparing for her weekly prayer call, at 12 noon.
It occurred to me that morning that regrettably, having been inundated with similar news reports in 2022 that I’d become numb to news of the mass shooting: five Edmondson Westside High School students had been shot in the Edmondson Village Shopping Center’s parking lot, just outside of Popeyes and one of them, 16 year-old Deanta Dorsey, died.
When I heard the news that Thursday, in all honesty, it was the mention of Popeyes that caused me to pay more attention, the second time. I don’t recall hearing that mentioned the evening before. The shooting didn’t draw me in, nor did the mention of five young persons, but the Popeyes name struck a chord. I recall saying to myself, ‘I know where that is.’
When I realized the tremendous nature and impact of what had actually happened I realized (1) I’d fallen victim to the normality of such dastardly violence, (2) these were young people— teenagers, and (3) I felt super sad for the tragic loss of life and the assaults inflicted on the victims, as well as their respective families. I was convicted because what I thought would never happen to me— becoming all but immune— had. I’d heard about the shooting that Wednesday but hardly gave it a second thought.
The reality is, at the time of this writing, and since this year of 2023 began young people have been the headlines of violent acts in and around Baltimore, starting with the fatal shooting of 17 year-old D’Asia Garrison, one of two shooting victims in the McElderry Park neighborhood just a few hours into New Year’s Day. By week’s end, a shooting had occurred across from another high school, Benjamin Franklin, on Jan. 6. This time the victims were a 15 year-old girl and a 16 year-old boy. Thankfully, both are expected to survive.
Mindful that similar shootings involving young people are occurring nationally, we cannot afford to be numb. In fact, each unfortunate occurrence should shock us back into reality, serving as wake-up calls that label every pulled trigger as truly unacceptable. If the news of a 6 year-old shooting his first grade teacher at the Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va. on Jan. 6, doesn’t, then I don’t know what will; especially after it was reported that a child could have the mindset– let alone a gun in his possession– to allegedly shoot his teacher, intentionally. So many unanswered questions, to say the least.
What in the world is going on? My mind goes back several years to so-called flash mobs, groups of young people that roamed throughout Central Park, in New York, randomly attacking innocent people. More recently, here, in Baltimore large groups of youth have caused havoc in and around the Inner Harbor. Then, on Friday, December 30, as 2022 came to an end, over 200 youth caused a major disturbance, outside of Towson Town Center. CBS News ran an online headline that read, “Video shows response to large and unruly crowd that caused chaos in downtown Towson.”
Out of 8 arrested, 7 were minors.
Over and over, younger and younger youth are dominating headlines and controlling the narratives. And, herein lies the problem: a reversal… a takeover. Children are controlling our city and adults are abdicating control of our streets to them. Our times are akin to the phenomena of inmates running the asylum.
I recently watched, per chance, the movie Attica. The film’s topic is the 1,281 mostly African American inmates, out of 2,200, who protested and took over the New York correctional facility for five days in 1971. The inmates held 42 hostages and it did not end well.
Most of us have read William Golding’s, Lord of the Flies, about a group of British boys’ disastrous attempts to govern themselves, having been stranded on an uninhabited island. Likewise, it did not end well.
From dirt bike riders and social media bullying to squeegee kids (workers) and juvenile mass shooters, children have all but seized control of our day to day existence.
Our once little ones too often come of age only to exist outside of their intended character and potential. Have you read some of their extensive rap sheets? Far too many find themselves roaming around the city, terrorizing neighborhoods and communities. Meanwhile, adults are afraid of walking their dogs and anxious if they have to stop at certain intersections. Adults in today’s society are scared to shop at the mall or grocery store, attend a concert, enjoy a play, attend a firework display or watch a sports event in a large crowd.
I’m sad to say that these “terrors”– these children who are acting out of character– are mostly ours.
They are our African-American sons and daughters, and by-in-large we are to blame.
In so many ways, we have acquiesced or abdicated, starting with the dereliction of parental responsibilities, especially as relates to those of us, as men.
Moreover, we relinquished, as adults, our power. Needless to say, once such is given up, it’s almost never returned or regained. Still further, as adults we have come to ignore or tacitly accept and coddle the negative, bad and/or violent behavior of our youth.
Perhaps we are living results of the adage, “if you give them an inch…” especially given the recent years of allowing misdemeanors and petty crimes to go unpunished and not prosecuted. Even the comedic character, on the old Andy Griffith Show, Deputy Barney Fife understood that when it comes to addressing bad behaviors of children, unwanted behaviors must be “nipped in the bud.”
Negative behaviors must be met with a consequence. I learned this lesson all to clearly many years ago. I almost wasn’t allowed to participate in my high school graduation from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, in 1979. I, along with several others (who will remain nameless), planned the graduation dance– including the selling of tickets. After the dance took place, our senior class advisor recognized that the number of tickets collected exceeded the amount of money collected.
The Monday after the dance, I found myself in the school’s security office with the resource officer and two city police, among others. These men put the fear of God in me (us). Just recall the cable program Scared Straight. Then, my father had to come to the school and pay restitution, and I was sent home for three days. (I think that’s known as a suspension, although I’ve never come to terms with that). By God’s grace, I was allowed to graduate, and I was still allowed the honor of reading names for my graduating class as they received their diplomas during the ceremony because I was Class Senator. My point however, is that even with such foolish behavior, I was held accountable and, to some extent– and so were my parents.
What’s happening now is our youth are allowed to get away with just about anything. And they’re not to blame. We are.
The ancient proverb still rings true: “Train up a child in the way he/she should go: and when he/she is old, he/she will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6,KJV)
Throughout much of my almost 40 years of ministry, I have asserted that it’s not a child’s fault if they come of age and discover that they have nothing to depart from, or even come back to, because nothing substantive and meaningful was ever instilled in them, in their youth. They haven’t been trained. The only reason the Prodigal Son was able to come to himself and return to his father’s house, in the parable (St. Luke 15:11-32) is because he knew where he’d come from and “something” had been instilled in him before he left for the far country.
My perspective asserts that we’ve left God out. And before you dismiss that assertion, “hear” me out. I assert, in order to elaborate, that our youth no longer see us as representatives of authority, trust, admiration, or even fear; and, therefore there’s no respect.
Most of my generation, in spite of our acting out, came to the awareness that Momma had God in her. Our teacher had God in him, or her. Our nosey neighbor had God in her, or him. And, yes, our father had God in him. Our culture and present generation is existing, not thriving, because we’ve become self-indulgent and humanistic. Our youth see very little principles, ideals, sacrifices, acts of faith in us, because we’ve all but forsaken Martin Luther King’s God, Sojourner Truth’s God, and, grandmomma’s God of love, peace and non-violence.
Their God “came” to us…came to get us– whether we liked it or not– because they, themselves, literally came to get us. Adults weren’t our friends. They weren’t our equals. They were over us, and we had little choice but to look up to them. They were semblances of God to and for us. Who’s going after our youth? Who’s coming for them, in their time of need? Yes, there are God-fearing parents, teachers, mentors, religious and faith leaders, counselors, but not enough, especially in the grassroot areas of where the most attention is needed. The areas where most of the abandonment and negative influences occur.
The day of the late Freddie Gray’s funeral, which took place at our church, a number of significant things happened. The killing of Gray, who died in police custody at the age of 25, struck a match in a city that already resembled a powder keg.
Students left Frederick Douglass High School and made their way through Mondawmin Mall only to end up in a major confrontation with Baltimore City Police, on Liberty Heights Avenue. Toya Graham, having seen her 16 year-old son, Michael, throwing rocks at police on live TV, left her home in search of finding her son. Having found him, she hit his head and forced him to take off his ski mask. Ms. Graham would later say to the media, “That’s my only son and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray.”
Former Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, praised her actions, as did many, many others, but he lamented, “I wish I had more parents that took charge of their kids out there, tonight.” (Reuters, New York, April 29, 2015) Many would go on to call her, “Mother of the Year.”
History proves, however, that although the maternal influence is highly effective and necessary, young boys, especially, need positive paternal influence, especially since boys grow up imitating the behavior, as well as seek the approval from their fathers from a very young age.
Wouldn’t it be grand if given the present God-given confluence of African American male leaders in our city convened themselves for a summit, sending a New Year’s signal of strength and solidarity?
I mean, it’s unprecedented that here in Baltimore, MD, we have a governor of our state, a mayor of our city, a state attorney general, a city state’s attorney, a city council president, and a police commissioner in major positions who, physically, standing together would send a significant message. Still further, they could, even with others, say that their unity is a clarion call for all of our sons… and daughters to aspire, similarly. This moment in time should be taken advantage of all the more since we are such a visual culture.
Such strong and influential African-American men could even be joined by local athletes, media personalities, faith leaders and businessmen in a social media campaign, as well as billboards, etc., promoting the message to our youth that “We’re Coming To Take/Bring You Back.”
C’mon. Let’s take them back, and take our city back.
Dr. Harold Carter Jr. is pastor of Baltimore’s New Shiloh Baptist Church.
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