Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Blacks Must Battle Internal Plagues

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Blacks Must Battle Internal Plagues

Article excerpt

It was not so much a eulogy for 4-year-old Launice Janae Smith as a plea that her death, by a stray bullet fired at a playground, rouse Washington's deadliest neighborhood from its paralysis in the face of drug violence. The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. began with a description of Launice as "an angel sent . . . to give us a warning: Nation Beware."

But his real message started with an account of a conversation he'd had with some children in Florida: "What would you do if you saw drugs and a gun in somebody's locker at school?"

"I'd stay away from that person."

"And what would you do if you saw a hood, a white sheet and a rope in somebody's locker?"

"I'd tell it. That sounds like the Klan, and the Klan kills people. I'd tell it."

That conversation, Jackson told a crowded church in Southeast Washington, describes one of the reasons it's so hard to reduce the violence associated with inner-city drug trafficking. If the perpetrators were white, police would have no difficulty getting victimized communities to provide information. When they are black, reports to the authorities become "snitching." Black criminals are given sanctuary in the very crime-racked communities they prey upon.

"Yet," said Jackson, "more young black men die each year from gunshot wounds than the total who have died from lynching in the whole history of America."

One of them died Sept. 25, the day Launice was shot. Kervin Brown was killed by gunmen firing into a crowd at a pickup football game on an elementary school field. The gunmen apparently were after Brown and shot the toddler accidentally - if any injury that results from firing recklessly into a crowd can be called accidental. Only one man has been arrested in the shooting.

Jackson's was an unabashed plea that neighborhood residents, who, he is convinced, know who the gunmen are, give that information to the police.

"The silence that protects these criminals is not solidarity; it's betrayal. It's stupid and masochistic. We've got to tell it."

Jackson's purpose, he later said, was two-fold: to solve this killing and to prod the community into taking a stand against the violence that has made that tiny slice of Washington the city's deadliest - 17 killings so far this year, with another 15 or so within a mile. …

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