Each year that the national homicide count is tabulated, black America goes into shock, resuming a ritual of hand-wringing and prayer vigils.

For those so inclined, statistics published last month in the government's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report should provide another reason to gasp: From 1978 to 1987, 20,315 young black men were slain in the United States.

Fewer black men died in the Vietnam War.

And we're worried about the Persian Gulf?

Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, D.C. -- these are black America's battlefields.

Shocking? It shouldn't be. Considering how we have raised our children, we can no longer feign surprise at what they have become.

"What strikes me is how many of our young black men were never held as babies," said Jasper Ormond, a drug treatment counselor for the D.C. Department of Corrections. "So many of them never bonded to another human being. When they put a gun to somebody's head and pull the trigger, they don't see the victims as people. They don't even see themselves as part of the human family."

Almost half of black students in urban school systems drop out. More than half of all black children are poor and, as teenagers, more than half are unemployed.

That is disgraceful, but it does not provide a satisfactory motive for murder. What makes murderers out of precious little black babies are the crimes committed against them as children.

Several studies of black men convicted of murder reveal that many of them were witnesses to the worst kind of domestic violence and were themselves victims of child abuse, rape and neglect.

"Many of the kids that I see feel abandoned, rejected and are very angry with the society and the people who produced them," said Fred Phillips, a clinical psychologist with the Progressive Life Center, a youth counseling service in Washington. "They take this anger out in very personal ways -- against their community, their neighbors and themselves. They are not conscious of why, but they instinctively feel that they are an exploited generation who have been deprived of the resources necessary to integrate into this society."

"A lot of these young people are being referred to us as 'criminally insane' because their behavior seems so strange," said Raymond Patterson, head of forensic services at St. Elizabeths Hospital. "But what you have are young men struggling to find an identity, engaging in life-threatening activity to show their power and courage. For guidance, they use the most influential tool in their lives: television."

The burden, if not the blame, must fall on the parents who have, quite frankly, failed to make anywhere near the kinds of sacrifices for their children that were made for them.

No discipline rendered, no values imparted, no time for the children.

"The violence that is being promoted in our general culture has not been countered by the family, school or church," Ormond said. "The children are being socialized as pure individuals, with no empathy for others. What is missing is love, and what has emerged is a tremendous amount of self hate."

Many who have managed to distance themselves from the carnage may protest. Those are not our kids who are killing and robbing. Children of the black middle class go to Harvard, Howard, Morehouse and Yale. The black upper crust obviously takes care of its own.

But those who promote such an attitude should be slapped upside their heads and reminded of where they came from -- and how they got to where they are. Only because of victories won in the name of all black people were they able to go to nice white schools and get jobs in corporate America.

If their forefathers and mothers had harbored such self-centered attitudes, just where do they think the black middle class would be today?

There are many -- to be sure -- who understand the importance of community involvement, but who may have trouble figuring out what to do. There are many things we can do to reach at-risk youths, such as volunteering at Boys Clubs, Junior Achievement programs and the public schools.

We must accept responsibility for solving our problems. Black youths are not angry at white people. They are angry at us because we have failed them and they know it.

We let our children grow wild -- like weeds -- then have the nerve to be upset when they put a stranglehold on us.

No point in being shocked by our deadly harvest. Better to remember the scriptural maxim: You reap what you sow.