Tuesday, December 30, 2008

73 and counting

In 1992, I used to stay at the Summers Apartments, a group of townhouses next to the historic Summers Hotel, home of the legendary Subway Lounge. One morning, I woke up and one of my neighbors was standing in the parking lot. When I asked what he was doing, all he did was point and say, "I think that is a body over there." Needless to say that caught my attention.

We walked over and sure enough it was. A man balled up in the fetal position, having been stabbed. A little later in the year, a good friend of mine, having become a new father, was relaxing at my apartment, watching the Lakers play. I noticed this huge scar on his shoulder and he said that was one of four gun shots he had received in a robbery attempt a couple of years before. He was shot with a .44 Magnum and survived.

Two weeks after the conversation, he was killed by one .22 caliber bullet over a $10 watch he won in a card game. Seems the owner wanted it back. That was the most horrific year in Jackson history as we nearly approached 100 homicides that year. In a city as small as Jackson, every homicide has an impact on a number of people, but that year it seemed like death was all around us. I did not feel comfortable at parties nor in my own home, as someone had tried to break in on a Sunday morning I played hookie from church.

It was a terrible feeling. I felt overwhelmed and powerless. I was on my way to serve in the Marine Corps full-time and I had left politics in the past, having lost an election the year before. But these personal events plus the movement to elect an African-American mayor of Jackson led me back to the cause that God put me on earth to fulfill. I thought about how the prophet Jonah had tried to abdicate his responsibility and ended up in the belly of the whale. It seemed as though my "whale" was Jackson, and its deteriorating status.

I got back involved, managing Henry Kirksey's campaign the following year and being a voice for change, especially through activities serving on the local NAACP board. Up until this November, I had never looked back. Now as I contemplate what role to take in the future of Mississippi politics, as well as prioritizing my personal life, 73 people have been murdered in my adopted hometown.

Michael Corleone once said, "Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in." I understand.

Human beings are going to be base creatures, especially when enlightenment is an ideal and not a lifestyle, but why do we feel that we have to resolve disagreements, especially with loved ones, in such a destructive manner? The police cannot attend every family get-together in the city, therefore it is up to people to show restraint. A better financed, better educated police force can deal with the true criminal element, but it is up to us to make sure family disputes don't escalate to deadly violence.

I don't have a quick fix solution to this dilemma. I have children I am responsible for and I pray that no harm comes to them. I have to teach them how to resolve conflicts without violence. But I cannot do that for every child in Mississippi, let alone Jackson. That is a responsibility EVERY citizen must take upon themselves for their own family members. One woman got on TV and said that she would pray for a safer city. However, while pray changes things, the Bible also says, "Faith without works is dead."

It is time to get off our knees. It is time to stop turning our heads away from the problem. It is time to get involved, one household at a time. As expressed in an earlier blog, many people are concerned about President Obama's safety. Well, he has the Secret Service 24-7. What do we have? Hopefully in 2009, I can safely say, "each other."