About two hundred well-meaning folks — most from Cleveland Heights, others from various points on the East side — met at the Cleveland Heights library last week in an attempt to give voice to their concerns, work through fears and come up with solutions to what’s being characterized as out of control mobs of Black youth that have been (according to whose version you believe) rampaging through festivals and events of late. The issue is red hot and quite complicated.
The audience seemed almost equally divided between liberals who essentially said the incidents were little more than “kids just being kids”… while more conservative types characterized the youth as “urban terrorists” and called for strong action to repress the allegedly obnoxious behavior.
Interestingly enough there were Blacks who were for cracking down, and Whites who said that it was not really a big deal — which, perhaps, is a good thing since it tends to lessen the racial aspect of the incidents. And, in fact, both sides were right to some degree, a fact that enhances the complexity of the issue, and makes it all that much harder to solve.
Truly, in the land of the blind, a one-eyed man is king… and there were some folks in attendance who were so blinded by their own agendas they added nothing to the discussion. To make inflammatory statements such as “if this curfew is allowed to remain in place next they’ll have us sitting in the back of the bus again” (while not admitting that the youth in question were indeed Black) belittles the Civil Rights Movement. Likewise the inane statements by a few bigots who obviously would like to go back to a time when only White youths attended events in Cleveland Heights.
Does the presence and proximity of Black youth (no matter how well behaved they may happen to be) cause palpitations and anxiety attacks among some White folks? Of course it does. Remember the case a few months ago where a Black member of a football team in one of the wealthier East side suburbs was going door-to-door raising funds for his team… a practice that has been going on for years. However, when a White kid saw a rather large Black male at his door he immediately perceived danger, even imagining he saw a gun. Why? Because in America we’ve made “young and Black” synonymous with “fear and danger”… and, while in some cases the fear is justified and the danger is real, in most cases it’s not. But this nonetheless complicates matters.
A few years ago I was covering a town hall meeting on the far West side where Frank Jackson was speaking, and a closet racist angrily raised the question about those punks invading his formerly lily-white neighborhood. It was one of the only times I’ve witnessed the mayor come close to getting angry as he responded (I’m paraphrasing here), “So you really thought that the problem with urban youth was going to stay bottled up in Black communities? Didn’t you know that if they were left unaddressed they would spread to your neighborhood too?”
The festering wound of dysfunctional behavior being engaged in by minority youth who can’t envision a future for themselves is spreading, now infecting the whole of the body politic.
Now that text messaging and other forms of social media are allowing youth to mob up wherever they choose, the problem of dysfunctional and sometimes dangerous behavior by Black youth is indeed spreading out of inner-city neighborhoods and now threatens once peaceful communities. Clearly, measures designed to bring about positive, long-term changes are needed.
The response of putting in place a draconian curfew that makes peaceful, law-abiding kids in Cleveland Heights pay a price for conduct a few other kids engaged in is not the answer. It’s very unfair and there are better ways of addressing the problem. But, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Here’s the racist part (and it’s certainly not confined to Cleveland Heights, we do it all over the country): When Black youth are involved, the answer, the solution, is virtually always repressive in construct. Lock them up, charge them with a felony, and ruin their lives forever — for what? Simply because they engaged in what amounts to juvenile behavior?
But if the problem is one involving White youth, sexting for instance — where predominantly teenaged While girls engage in sending lewd pictures of themselves — creative answers are sought… ones that won’t ruin their futures over some childish behavior. All I’m asking is the same level of concern is demonstrated in regards to the lives and futures of Black youth.
In the short term this may mean that police are going to have to get off their asses and do some real police work. If hundreds (if not thousands) of kids — many who don’t know each other — are using social media to mob up, how hard can it be to infiltrate their networks and send disruptive messages? Messages like “Don’t show up on Shaker Square, police everywhere.” Then follow up with other disruptive and confusing messages. Before long they won’t know where to try to mob up.
Then, police departments from various communities and the county sheriff are going to have to work in tandem to have an overwhelming presence at planned events such as festivals. Gang experts who work for the City of Cleveland know virtually all of the bad actors, and when they arrive at these events they have to be confronted, isolated, and arrested if necessary. But they don’t necessarily have to be charged with a felony… which is my real concern. They can simply be released after the event is over, and once they understand that every time they show up they’re going to be treated in the exact same way, they eventually will quit showing up… or change their ways and peacefully join in the festivities.
My fears are two-fold: One, that this issue will be used as an excuse to needlessly ruin the lives of more Black youth (we’ve been doing so in this country for decades and using the specious logic and laws of the “War on Drugs” — which locked up some potheads while allowing others to go free — to justify such actions); and, two, that if these youth do stop acting out we, as a society, will do nothing to solve the systemic problems that created the myth of the fearful Black youth in the first place. Their condition, their lack of opportunity in this so-called land of opportunity, their lack of future prospects does indeed make some Black urban youth dangerous. Those who have nothing have nothing to lose. We simply must figure out how to allow everyone to have a slice of the American pie and if we think that we’re going to be able to “police” our way out of this problem we’re sorely mistaken… but we can further bankrupt ourselves — literally squander our tax dollars — in the attempt. George Santayana famously said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Have we not learned anything?
The liberals who basically make excuses for these sometimes out-of-control youth are not doing them any favors. Youth, no matter their race, can’t be allowed to run amok… eventually someone is going to get killed at an event; either one of the youth, or an innocent bystander. So, first they have to be brought under control, and then we have to work to eliminate the conditions in America that causes them to go on seemingly senseless rampages.
From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting http://www.neighborhoodsolutionsinc.com.