WASHINGTON WATCH: Gun Violence Among Black Men (VIDEO) | Roland Martin Reports

WASHINGTON WATCH: Gun Violence Among Black Men (VIDEO)

Gun violence takes the life of a young African-American man every five hours. It’s the leading cause of death for black men under the age of 35. And in Chicago, President Barack Obama’s hometown, it is the epicenter. Yet, gun violence among black men rarely makes the national agenda and is hardly discussed outside the black community.

The numbers are staggering. More than 4,680 black men between the ages of 15 and 34 were murdered, primarily from guns, in 2010. That is far more than from car crashes, AIDS or suicide. Imagine nearly 5,000 black men in a college. That’s what we’re talking about there, folks. It’s nearly twice the rate for white men the same age.

Experts identify several reasons for the crisis: poverty, cheap guns, broken families, confused ideas about manhood. But the solutions, including more social services and more police, haven’t stopped the bloodshed.

Chicago is home to several violent street gangs. It is bracing for its deadliest year, with black men as the primary victims. The city has recorded more than 400 homicides through November — more per capita than in Los Angeles and New York. But no Chicago youth is entirely safe. A University of Chicago study indicates that, perhaps, as many as one out of every five youths shot to death was a bystander who wasn’t the shooter’s intended target.

“There’s a shooting here almost every day,” says one South Side Chicago neighborhood activist. “They feel, I think, that no one cares.”

The issue of black men and gun violence burst into the national conversation last week when Jovan Belcher, a pro football linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, killed his girlfriend — shot her nine times — and then killed himself in the team’s parking lot.
Can the attention paid to this story lead us to some answers on the tragic intersection of guns, young black men and death?

Joining me to examine the problem and talk about solutions: Dr. Steve Perry, host of “Save My Son,” shown right here on TV One; and Dr. Chuck Williams, director of the Center for the Prevention of School-Aged Violence at Drexel University.

MR. MARTIN:   Welcome back to “Washington Watch.”

Gun violence takes the life of a young African-American man every five hours.  It’s the leading cause of death for black men under the age of 35.  And in Chicago, President Barack Obama’s hometown, it is the epicenter.  Yet, gun violence among black men rarely makes the national agenda and is hardly discussed outside the black community.

The numbers are staggering.  More than 4,680 black men between the ages of 15 and 34  were murdered, primarily from guns, in 2010.  That is far more than from car crashes, AIDS or suicide.  Imagine nearly 5,000 black men in a college.  That’s what we’re talking about there, folks.  It’s nearly twice the rate for white men the same age.

Experts identify several reasons for the crisis:  poverty, cheap guns, broken families, confused ideas about manhood.  But the solutions, including more social services and more police, haven’t stopped the bloodshed.

Chicago is home to several violent street gangs.  It is bracing for its deadliest year, with black men as the primary victims.  The city has recorded more than 400 homicides through November – more per capita than [in] Los Angeles and New York.  But no Chicago youth is entirely safe.  A University of Chicago study indicates that, perhaps, as many as one out of every five youths shot to death was a bystander who wasn’t the shooter’s intended target.

“There’s a shooting here almost every day,” says one South Side Chicago neighborhood activist.  “They feel, I think, that no one cares.”

The issue of black men and gun violence burst into the national conversation last week when Jovan Belcher, a pro football linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, killed his girlfriend – shot her nine times – and then killed himself in the team’s parking lot.

Can the attention paid to this story lead us to some answers on the tragic intersection of guns, young black men and death?

Joining me to examine the problem and talk about solutions:  Dr. Steve Perry, host of “Save My Son,” shown right here on TV One; and Dr. Chuck Williams, director of the Center for the Prevention of School-Aged Violence at Drexel University.

Gentlemen, welcome to the show.

DR. STEVE PERRY:  Thank you.

DR. CHUCK WILLIAMS:  Thanks for having me, Roland.

MR. MARTIN:  I’ve shot a gun once in my life – FBI Citizen’s Academy submachine gun.  No interest whatsoever.  I grew up in a neighborhood.  I saw crack houses taken down by the DEA, by the Houston Police Department.  Never felt the need to do it.

Is part of this individuals who feel the need to have the weapon for protection, to build themselves up – and, unfortunately, it results in these tragic deaths?  I mean, really, what is at play here in the psyche of black men and guns?

DR. PERRY:  The gun is a symptom of a greater problem.  The problem is so many of our men don’t feel like they belong to anybody.  They don’t feel loved, and the challenge for them is being connected to someone or something.  One you have an entire community of people who feel like they don’t belong to anybody, that they are abandoned or somehow stray[s], it’s not that they don’t care about the other person.  They don’t care about themselves.

DR. WILLIAMS:  That’s deep.  And I agree with Dr. Steve Perry.

I want to go back to something you said, which is a “confused notion of manhood.”  I think that’s also a part of it.  You know, back in the day when we were growing up, people had beefs.  You know, we fought “a fair one and done,” we used to say in Philly.  You fight.  Whoever wins, wins.  Whoever loses, loses.  You shake hands, you make up, and y’all cool for the rest of the day, semester – whatever.

Now, manhood says you don’t resolve arguments amicably, or peaceably, or talk it out.  You pick up a gun, and the last one standing is the last one standing.

MR. MARTIN:  And it goes to you respond.  You get beat.  I’m going to respond.  I’m going –

DR. WILLIAMS:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — and then it simply escalates.  But, again, how do we break through that?  And I was watching the ESPN documentary on the player out of Chicago, Bengie –

DR. PERRY:  Yes.

MR. MARTIN:  I’m sorry.  The last name is escaping me.  And he actually ended up being killed not because he was being robbed.  It was because two of the cats said, “Man, you ran into me.  You didn’t apologize,” and then it escalated.

DR. PERRY:  It goes back to the fact – in education, in particular, when kids have something to look forward to, they begin to act like people who have something to do tomorrow.  So, they take today more preciously and treat it more preciously.

So many of our young men – and in some cases, young women – have seen that they’ve grown up in a violent community.  Think about how we talk about our sons. One of the first things we say when someone says, “Well, how’s your son?”

They say what?  “Bad as hell.”

That’s a compliment.  The expectation is that, in order to show that you are, in fact, a[n] African-American male, you have to on some level be “bad as hell.”  And then we can follow that all the way out.  Even intellectuals want to call themselves “hoods” of some other place than where they are.  They want to own that.  They want to wear this cloak because we have this skewed, bastardized impression of what it means to be an African-American male.

MR. MARTIN:  Do we also contribute this by this whole notion [of] “I’m not lettin’ nobody punk me”?

OFF CAMERA:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  And so what happens is – and I get the whole notion that “you’re not going to disrespect me.  You’re going to respect me.”  But when it crosses the line, though, into “I’m not gonna get punked,” so if you walked in front of me, you stepped on my shoe, or whatever, and you’re disrespecting me, the only answer seems to be I’m going to pull a gun out to get your attention.

DR. WILLIAMS:  Right.  And, you know, all three of us here are black men.  We have education, and we have privilege and power – all that – but we don’t want to be disrespected.  I’m sure we can all talk about a moment where we had to go back to that time where we came from to remind people, “You will not disrespect me.”  I had one coming here today.  But there’s a line.  So, when it got to that point, I just walked away

’cause, as Dr. Perry said, I[’ve] got something to live for.  I’ve got a lot to live for, so I’m very hopeful.

But two, quick points.  One is retaliation is a huge issue.  People don’t walk away and let it go.  If you beat me, I’m going to make sure I get you back, even if it means I’m going to spray up your home; your grandma’s crib; you know, your aunt’s crib – ’cause you will not get the last word.

The other thing that we’re talking about is a culture in our community, which we don’t like to really discuss.  There’s this whole thing about aggression is what’s up.  That’s what’s good.  If you’re aggressive, then we like that, and somehow you’re legitimately black.

We[’ve] got to challenge that.

MR. MARTIN:  And … I know people are sitting here, saying, “Well, yeah, but these are not really answers.”  But the fact of the matter is they are, because you have to teach folks to understand that actually walking away, you’re actually a better man –

OFF CAMERA:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — than the one who wants to say, “Let’s fight it out – [crosstalk].”

DR. PERRY:  My senior year of high school, I got a phone call from my father.  He said, “Sit down.”

Who sits down when they tell you to sit down on a phone call?

My father told me that he had had an issue at a place – a bar.  My father shot someone and went away to prison.  When I asked him why, he said, “Because he disrespected me.”

And in my mind, as a child, all I was thinking was, “Dude, but there are four kids at home.  What could he possibly have said to make you think that you were going to give it up, go on a court-ordered vacation, behind this?”

When a person sees that the visceral reaction is the most important, that there’s no greater depth, there’s nothing to live for tomorrow, they’ve checked out.  It’s the reason why – we call them terrorists in other countries.  These are people who will … strap themselves with a bomb.  It’s a psychosis that’s there.  They are disconnected, and their desire to connect to something more powerful, sometimes with whatever number of virgins they tell the people that they’re going to get if they put a bomb on them, or street cred – it’s all the same thing.  They all want to belong to that culture of power that they have not ascended to because they’ve not contributed to the conversation in a very real way.

MR. MARTIN:  It’s interesting, because I’ll have some folks who’re going to say, “Man!  You went gangsta on television!”  So, to your point earlier, there’s a part of this also that the language that we’re also using also contributes to this, because – yeah – I can say, yes, I might be a[n] intellectual gangsta, or whatever you want to come up with. But when you begin to use certain language that really means “criminal,” imagine, for the person who can’t intellectualize and break down in an educated way, what that statement means.

DR. WILLIAMS:  And by the way, I have a similar story to Dr. Perry.  My dad also went on “vacation” for the same thing, but it was two guys, and there’s four of us as well.

MR. MARTIN:  [Crosstalk] – went on “vacation” –

DR. WILLIAMS:  Once again –

MR. MARTIN:  — for the same thing.

DR. WILLIAMS:  — right.  The culture.  This – we’re talking about a culture, and we know that history, unfortunately, repeats itself – but we’re able to break that cycle.  Thank God for that.

Once again, we have to go back to this culture.  One of the things we know [is] when you see one of our friends – I[’ve] got two brothers.  They[’ve] got sons.  I[’ve] got six nephews.  The first thing they want to talk about is how tough they are.  And I say to them, “What message are you sending to” – “He’s 18 months!  Let him be as soft and as much of an infant as he wants to be.”

“Naw, I don’t want him to be no punk.”

At 18 months?  Does it matter?  Is it that deep?

But that’s where it starts.  We’re training our little boys to be thugs.  Look at how they dress – like Lil Wayne instead of like Roland Martin, or Dr. Steve Perry.

We[’ve] got to stop that.

MR. MARTIN:  Final comment.

DR. PERRY:  One of the things I think we need to realize is that there’re kids on college campuses who took the PSAT pre-calculus and were on a swim team, and they go to college, and they call themselves “thugs.”

You wore a Speedo, homey.  You can’t be a thug!

[LAUGHTER.]

DR. PERRY:  Be beautiful.  Be smart.

DR. WILLIAMS:  I think he’s talking –

DR. PERRY:  Be black.

DR. WILLIAMS:  — about the fake Rick Ross.

MR. MARTIN:  I understand.

Gentlemen, a great conversation.  We certainly appreciate it.  Thanks a bunch.  And we’ll continue it.

DR. WILLIAMS:  Thank you.

MR. MARTIN:  Hold tight.

Folks, you can see Dr. Perry in action on “Save My Son” Friday nights, at 9 Eastern, on TV One.