Friday, January 05, 2007

An African American Tragedy

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”—Hamlet. ACT I, Scene 4.

The body of Darrent Williams will be publically viewed tonight in Fort Worth, the hometown of the Denver Broncos player who was gunned down in Denver early on New Year’s Day. Williams’ funeral will be held January 6 at Great Commission Baptist Church.

After a few days’ worth of reflection, it’s no easier to understand why this horrible crime took place. The police have in their possession an abandoned SUV, which may be the vehicle from which the crime was committed. The 1998 Chevrolet Tahoe in custody is reportedly registered to a 28-year-old man who is currently in jail on drug and attempted murder charges, the latter stemming from the shooting death of a woman who was scheduled to testify against him in December.

If the link to thugs and thuggery pans out, then it’s time once again to examine this cancer in American society.

While Denver Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of $2,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the Williams case, Denver’s Rev. Leon Kelly rightfully assesses the wider situation. Said Kelly, who works to help Denver-area youth escape gangs and drugs, "You don't want the bad guys to win, but if you do the right thing, what do you get? Two thousand dollars? That's not even enough to take care of your funeral."

Rev. Kelly might as well be the late Johnnie Cochran. To paraphrase, "If you snitch, you end up in a ditch."

The Williams slaying was particularly ugly and presumably beyond senseless. Now it’s time for the gloves to come off, for media and political leaders everywhere to say “Enough!” and to have the courage to fearlessly assess this evil in the African American community.

Crimes of this nature rarely happen anywhere except among young black citizens, particularly those surrounding athletes or entertainers. Why is that? The Williams slaying smacked of a mob hit in Al Capone’s Chicago of the 1920s. America launched a war on crime back in those days. Was it successful? Hard to say. The Mob remained with us, morphed into pseudo-legitimacy with its business (they used to call them “rackets”), but even today occasionally makes headlines with its internecine murders. But in general, the Mob tends to stick to its own, and the average citizen makes the fair assessment that if you’re involved somehow with syndicate folks then you are most likely reaping what you sow.

The Williams death, as far as we know, isn’t that kind of thing, though its assassin-like brutality isn’t far removed from the harshness of the murder of Malcolm X. What then is it all about? While we ponder that, let’s also be amazed at the lack of public outcry from black leaders with status as national figures. Where is Jesse Jackson? Where is Barack Obama? Where is Charles Rangel? No doubt they are as outraged as the rest of us, yet they appear silent on the causes that underlie such a heinous act. If they have spoken up, the evidence is thin.

After more than 40 years of civil rights legislation, Affirmative Action, and the forward-marching assimilation of African Americans into the American social, economic and political ballgames, we are experiencing something in the modern era that no black American of the Jim Crow era ever dreamed of: black gangs and thuggery turned inward against its own kind. The situation is made additionally frightening when we ponder that the “gangsta” culture—Do they use that word in its “creative” spelling because it sounds less threatening?—has been made increasingly mobile through the use of modern communication devices and big, fast cars. Then there are the guns. And the drugs.

Pathetically, that culture has also been tacitly legitimized, in particular through the rise of rap music.

But why, we want to know, do young black men behave like this now, when they never behaved like this when blacks were supposedly suffering blatant oppression from the society at large? A mind is indeed a terrible thing to waste. So why does it seem like so many of them are infected with nth-degree immorality and criminal behavior? In the days of the 1960s inner-city riots, the mayhem was ascribed sociologically to poverty and lack of opportunity. Nowadays the mayhem is carried out with the assistance of cell phones and expensive SUVs, while the pathology goes unidentified, or worse, ignored.

Darrent Williams wasn’t supposed to die when he did. The immediate conclusion is that he was killed in an act of underworld treachery fueled by pure evil. But what is the underlying cause? Jealousy? That he had made it to the glory and big paydays of an NFL career and could afford to ride around on New Year’s Eve in the largest and longest Hummer limousine known to man? Unless, or until, we learn that Williams was involved in a drug deal gone bad, that is all we can conclude. There’s been talk of an “altercation” at the party Williams had attended. What could it possibly have been about, to end in murder?

It’s tragically, tragically sad. Not only for Williams’ family and the two children he left behind, but for the entire African American population, who probably had more peace within their own communities in the racially unenlightened United States of the early 1950s than they have in progressive 2006 when their young people go out for a night on the town.

Maybe evil just happens. Maybe people just go crazy. But it’s hard to avoid thinking that the murder of Darrent Williams signals something scandalously wrong in black America, where gangsterism, guns, drugs, hostile music, and the “coolness” of being a thug motivate far too many of its youth.

It’s time for answers, but don’t hold your breath.

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