No honest person will deny that the predominantly African-American areas of St. Petersburg can be dangerous places if you are young, black and male. And no honest person will deny that something profound needs to happen to reverse the status quo.
Mayor Rick Kriseman knows it, and he has pledged $1 million to find solutions. He also hired Kenny Irby, a former faculty member of the Poynter Institute (owner of the Tampa Bay Times) and a local pastor, as the city's community intervention director for the express purpose of reducing the violence. Earlier, he hired Nikki Gaskin-Capehart as urban affairs director to work on job development and other efforts to enhance economic opportunities south of Central Avenue. And he brought on Leah McRae, a lawyer, as the director of education and community engagement.
This mayor cannot be accused of indifference to the problems in the city's southern communities. However, I will say he does not seem to fully understand what he is dealing with. I will bet that if I write about this issue again in five years, not much, if anything, will have changed. Much of the southern part of the city will be the same killing field.
I am still waiting for a black leader to publicly bore down to the heart of the matter and address the vital role of the home — the family — in stopping the carnage. I am also waiting for a leader to openly discuss the ugly cultural traits in black life that contribute to the violence.
Times columnist John Romano recently quoted Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin in a column headlined, "Stopping violence on the streets is tall task."
"This is about the people of a community reclaiming their community," said Tomalin, whose responsibilities include devising strategies to reduce the violence in these neighborhoods. "This is about them saying, 'Not our sons.' "
Who is this perpetrator who has taken over the black community? It is the black community itself. Residents must reclaim their community from themselves, from their sons who are creating the mayhem and committing the murders. All residents in these communities are complicit. It is a complicity that perpetuates a culture of self-destruction and violence generation after generation.
This culture starts in the home where too many single moms struggle to make ends meet, where too many of them have little if any control of their boys. And all too often, the boys reared in these homes are overindulged in the wrong way.
Born and bred in Harlem, novelist James Baldwin, who died in 1987, often witnessed lone black mothers mourning the deaths of their sons. In his 1985 book, The Evidence of Things Not Seen, he dares to comment on one of the primary sources of black male violence.
"There is … disease peculiar to the black community called 'sorriness.' It is a disease that attacks black males. It is transmitted by Mama, whose instinct — and it is not hard to see why — is to protect the black male from the devastation that threatens him the moment he declares himself a man.
"All of our mothers, and all of our women, live with this small, doom-laden bell in the skull, silent, waiting, or resounding. … Mama lays this burden on Sister, from whom she expects (or indicates she expects) far more than she expects from Brother; but one of the results of this all too comprehensive dynamic is that Brother may never grow up."
Brother, the young black male, who never grows up, is susceptible to violence both as a perpetrator as a victim.
Boys who do not have healthy homes that enable them to grow up turn to the street where they learn from unsavory role models. These boys, in turn, become role models and transmit what they have learned.
If Kriseman, Irby, Gaskin-Capehart, McRae and others are serious about curbing the mayhem, they should start looking inside the home, where too many boys are not given responsibility, where too many never witness positive values that will help them grow up.