“We can save ourselves”
For many years New Orleans has maintained one of the highest per capita death rates in the United States. Crimes of violence and murder in the Black community is not only a social justice problem, it is a public health issue. This is a designation none of us wants, and our bureaucrats appear powerless to change. One wonders if they really care. Certainly they do not want this distinction – it frightens their tourists. But do they really care?
Some would say Black self-hatred is the cause of this statistic; others would say fear. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and police chief Ronal Serpas say it is our culture. How ridiculous! Crime has no culture - just victims. Although mass murder and serial killing is commonly attributed to white perpetrators we don’t label it as white culture.
We can save ourselves when we learn what it will take to stop the madness. First, we must understand why young Black men kill other young brothers. Second, we must provide a way out; the easy answer is jobs and education. So what else is new?
We were conditioned to take the law into our own hands. The African American community in New Orleans was taught decades ago that we could not depend on law enforcement. If we wanted justice we would have to handle it ourselves. We also learned that consequences for murdering a Black man would never be as grave as consequences for killing a Caucasian.
Internalized Racial Oppression Inferiority “A Multi-generational Process” developed to teach us to believe that we are inferior. To believe that Black life is dispensable and white life holds greater value.
There is nothing more dangerous than a man without hope. When there is no hope there is no reason to live. There is nothing to live for. No consequence is greater than that hopelessness.
We must teach young people to believe that there is hope. As long as there is life there is hope and consequences are more severe than they can imagine. This can best be explained to them by someone who has lived it. Many incarcerated and formerly incarnated persons are begging for the opportunity to teach our young people through their experiences. They do not want to see young lives wasted. They want to tell them the horror of being locked in a cell and haunted by the spirit of their murder victims. They speak of the arrogance and defiance they felt when they received life sentences. Reality doesn’t always sink in with the clang of prison gates behind them. But some day sometime years later the reality sets in and they wake up to a nightmare.
Protesters marching on City Hall will not solve this problem; murderers don’t read protest signs. Pep Rallies at UNO Arena won’t solve this problem; murderers don’t listen to this rhetoric. Young people must be addressed directly and made to realize there is value to their lives and that all human life holds value. Revenge is not the solution – it simply contributes to the problem. What was the plan? Has the strategy backfired? When flooding us out did not work, starving us out would not. Survivors will find ways to survive. Rather than hiring New Orleans natives to rebuild their own city the local elite chose to recruit impoverished people from south of our borders and others who say they are here to help us rebuild. A starving man will steal, rob and yes kill to survive. Self preservation is the first law of nature.
Parnell Herbert is a recently returned New Orleanian who was previously displaced to Houston by Hurricane Katrina. He is active on many social justice causes, including the right of return for New Orleanians, and freedom for the Angola Three. His new play, Angola Three, has been performed in New Orleans and other cities.