D.C.'s Young Black Men Don't Live in a 'Post-Racial' Society
Remember on election night, when pundits on cable news shows shouted to the mountaintops about this moment in history? Remember that strangers were hugging each other in the streets? This was the moment, we declared, when we as a nation and as a people had at last overcome.
Yes, this election proved that if any person works hard enough, she or he can become anything, even leader of the most powerful country on Earth. Welcome to post-racial America!
But don't celebrate just yet. We have a long way to go to achieve real change. You see, this month, only two miles from where Barack Obama will live and serve as the 44th president of the United States, a young black man was gunned down in Adams Morgan. Yes, this sort of crime is all too common in the District, but the tragedy of Derrell Goins's murder Dec. 10 was compounded by the self-centeredness of the people who came and went that night at the crime scene.
Before the ambulance left with its precious cargo -- the dwindling light of a young man who spent his 21 years walking gently on this Earth -- a group of people was pushing to get inside the police line to make sure no stray bullet had scratched their green Pontiac. A couple complained that they wanted to drive through the crime scene to unload their "party boxes" at their luxury condo. Another man remarked that this incident was a "drag, but shootings happen all the time in D.C." He chuckled.
All the while, standing just feet away was a lanky 20-year-old who had survived the attack and was left holding the personal effects of his dying friend. He stood at the police line, listening, invisible to the parade of people intruding on this devastating moment. The gawkers were incensed that their privilege could not win them entry into a crime scene that to them was simply an annoyance. No one focused on the young man who had been shot or the one who survived.
What will this young man do now? I pray that he will be touched by what Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature" and honor the life of his dear friend Derrell Goins by living in the light, full of joy, humor and spirit. I want him to see, as Derrell did, the beauty of the concrete jungle with all its faults. I hope that he finds compassion to love the sinners among us while detesting their sins -- both those who took the life of his friend and those who took his dignity by not entertaining, even for a moment, the idea that a human life was lost.
But I am afraid of the likely reality: that this young man will become jaded and cynical, a reaction to daily existence in Washington, where the lives of young black men seem to mean so little. Being surrounded by violence and utter lack of compassion from neighbors -- this is what builds young rage. These are the moments that desensitize young souls.
Even in our governance we seem to have become desensitized to the value of inner-city lives.
In September, some Adams Morgan residents were concerned about reports of nearly a dozen attempted shootings around their block, some in the exact location of the Dec. 10 tragedy. They met with police and their D.C. Council member. Promises were made to adjust, though not increase, patrols.
A few days later, city leaders vowed to increase neighborhood patrols, but not because of the shootings near homes and an elementary school. They were motivated by the one in the heart of the neighborhood business district.
While D.C. leaders have put an emphasis on spending more than $1 million to open Champlain Street under the Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center to ease congestion along the business corridor, they refuse to allocate funds for the dilapidated recreation center on that street.
Although the Adams Morgan Youth Leadership Academy won a $200,000 city contract to administer after-school programs, the city has failed to deliver any of the money -- and 40 to 50 kids show up on the group's unfunded doorstep most days.
These are not the actions of a city looking to resolve its crime problems. These are the actions of a city that puts businesses before residents and profits before families. These are the actions of a city that puts more value on the safety of its visitors than on the lives of its own children.
This is not the post-racial America for which we cried tears of joy on Election Day. All of us must take that moment seriously and not just feel it but live it in our everyday lives and in the policies to which we will hold our leaders accountable. That is the only way we will achieve the change we want so desperately to believe in.
Bryan Weaver is chairman of the Adams Morgan advisory neighborhood commission and president and founder of Hoops Sagrado, an international youth leadership program based in Washington. He was a friend to Derrell Goins.