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Friday, June 19, 2009

A bullet found one of our gentlemen

You could fuck around get shot die any day
Niggas die every day, all over bullshit, dope, money
Dice game, ordinary hood shit
Could this be cuz of hip hop music?
Or did the ones with the good sense not use it?
from: T.I., Dead and Gone

I learned yesterday afternoon that one of our Ivanhoe gentleman died from a gunshot wound. But unlike the street violence that is expected to snuff out the life of urban black men, DeShawn died in his basement when he and his friend were fooling around with a gun and it went off. No doubt he will be ridiculed in death for not dieing on the street.

I was devastated at the news. This is a kid that ate and slept at our house. I took him to school when he missed the bus. I took him to his community service on Saturday mornings so he could put his troubles behind him. He was a hustler for sure, but that's how you survive. He also worked hard at school and appreciated his friends when we had his back. When told of his tragic death, I refused to believe it. This could not be true. As the details kept coming across the line and into my ear, my mind could not keep up. This is a young person. This is not supposed to happen. I intervened in his life. Wasn't that supposed to protect him?

Ah, the fallacy of my white privilege came on full display. I, me, the privildged one, had cared about and been in the life of this young man. Ergo, he should be safe. Sadly, life in my neighborhood goes on and all my care and concern for this young gentleman and all the others I care about, will not protect them. It may help them make better choices and keep them out of some harm. But stray bullets are inanimate objects. Physics demands that once a bullet leaves the chamber, it moves until stopped by a mass. In this case, the mass was DeShawn - mass with a name, a twinkle in his eye, love in his heart, an expectation of his future - now as inanimate as the bullet that killed him.

I was getting on an airplane when the news came to me. I managed to get on the plane and then lost it. i was outraged and devastated. How, why, did this happen to our DeShawn. But as T.I. says so eloquently - it happens every day. Yesterday it happened to someone I know. Then I thought about how stupid could DeShawn be to fool around with a gun! What was he thinking? He died for nothing - not for dope, not for turf, not for himself. He just died.

But i won't let that be the end of the story. I don't want this to happen to anyone else. I didn't want this to happen to me - to have to get the news that one of my boys perished. I want to end the gun culture. I couldn't care less if guns are banned, registered, restricted. Let the NRA and the ACLU fight that out. What I want to do is end the culture that glorifies this weapon as some kind of accessory, as some kind of mystical item that has cache, that says it is cool to brandish a gun and that it gives you swag'a. I will not stand for DeShawn's death to be nothing more than dieing at the hands of glamour, dead because of the adulation given to this inanimate object, dead because he and his friend were mesmerized by the power in their hands and the rite of passage it portended if they possessed and carried it. DUMB ASS - WHAT WERE YOU THINKING????

I think I know what he was thinking and he was caught up in the gun culture. He was not plotting a stick up. He was not thinking, hey I need protection from a real threat. This was a symbol, an accessory, a statement of arrival. He wasn't earning his stripes in the street, he was just caught betwixt and between the street life he came in contact with every day and the other life his grandma, we, his teachers, and others were trying to show him. T.I. glorifies the life as a necessity - gotta protect whats yours. Put your hands on me and I gotta respond. DeShawn was not in that life, but he was on the fringes. So why not fall under the spell of the gun and see yourself ready if trouble comes. Trouble was all around him and he danced on the edge, flirting with disaster now and again. But the gun is a glorified object - casting an aura of invincibility, demonstrating life on the edge, and acting as a prop to secure your stature. Nobody will mess with me if I flash the steel.

Reminds me of a Buggs Bunny cartoon. Buggs and Elmer Fudd are going at each other and one picks up a stick, the other a small gun, then the other one comes back with a bigger gun, until finally, one of them rolls in a cannon. And of course it is all done at a high speed with compelling crazy music in the Loony Tunes style. It is hillarious. But it also speaks volumes about where a gun takes you. Hey, I flash mine and I am safe. Ha! Until the next guy flashes his Glock, and the next his auto weapon, and so on. There is no safety. But I will respect the need and right of those who feel they must carry a weapon for protection. But I contend it is a false assumption on their part that is born of the gun culture.

What I can no longer tollerate is the assumption that a gun is cool, is an accessory, makes a fashion statement, or is de rigour in the hip-hop world. THAT is the thinking that got DeShawn killed. It is the first step on thinking that sets you up to believe you are some kind of superhero, that you can dominate, that you can hustle and take, that you have status and position. That a gun will get you what you want. That's how the violence becomes contagious. But it starts with the gun culture. No more. Not on my watch.

I have to go bury my gentleman friend. I join the legions of family members and friends that have seen their young men and women become the physical mass that was the end of the physics chain that starts with a bullet in the chamber. I know there are hundreds of community groups around the country, maybe thousands, that say "stop the violence" "cash for guns" "outlaw guns" "alternatives to violence" "take back our streets" "night out against crime." There is a young man running for city council in NYC, Landon Dais, who is passionate about ending street violence where teenagers regularly get gunned down and die in the street. He has called for a vigil on Father's Day evening to commemorate a 15 year old who died. But they all are missing the larger point. It starts with the glorification of a gun culture. Their protests turn the victims into martyrs and their anger elevates the distinction between those who carry and those who don't . The dispassionate response from the street is "hey, these are the streets, and this is what you get - so carry or else."

We need to transform our conversation about guns and carrying and dying and the angst. I am prepared to be very dispassionate - because a gun is an inanimate object where I will not place my emotional investment. Until others understand that it is just an object of destruction that has no other purpose, we will continue this charade of glorification and status for guns. i don't want to outlaw guns, I want to make them inconsequential to our lives. So that when the next DeShawn sees one, he won't pick it up, won't become the mass that stops the bullet when it leaves the chamber.

RIP my lovely young gentleman.


Sandy Price said...

this story breaks my heart. unfortunately, this story breaks heart after heart, week after week. whatever you decide to do about gun culture, count me in.

UrbanChaos said...

He was in my dreams all night long, and this situation is certain to haunt us all further.

The points you make are equal to what I kept muttering throughout the night as I struggled with the news. I am angry, confused, and heart broken.

How can we keep DeShawn fresh in our minds for all that he brought to those around him, and what his death stands for? Madness!

psmith said...

First, my condolences go out to you and the young man's family and friends. I agree with your assessment of where the discussion needs to go. Guns are tools of destruction, simply put, nothing more nothing less. Until they are understood as such, nothing will change. That means people need to stop characterizing them as tools of protection, measurements of manhood, ect....and like most popular beliefs that have been so stitched in the very fabric of our society it is up to all of us, to play a part in changing the culture....

Alexis said...

I'm sorry for your loss.

What a poignant piece of writing. I hope that this becomes a blog posts that travels and helps shape a different conversation about guns and gun culture.


Sandie said...

What would replace the gun? What would be that symbol of power, that piece of protection, that charm of coolness - that says, "I don't fear death - but you should fear your own." It is the culture - but if the leaders of the civilized nations of the world can't figure out how to solve problems without guns, how do we expect these corner kids to figure out a better way?
I am so sorry for your loss - can't imagine it, really. I wish I was doing a small slice of the good that you guys do for those boys in your neighborhood. My thoughts are with you - and Airick - and DeShawn's family.

anne said...

I'm so sorry, Robyne,Airick and DeShawn's family, for your heartbreaking loss. DeShawn was fortunate to have you in his corner.
Few things compel me to stand on a soapbox - but guns do.Of course you are right. The fact that having guns in kids' hands has become unremarkable is a shame. Just this week a teenager shot some of his peers right outside the Columbia Heights Metro station. How can guns be so acceptable? I know you are wanting to take on the challenge but first, give yourself time to heal.
Sending my best, Anne

Dafiq Rasheed said...

Dr. Turner,

I am sorry to hear of your lost. This is very passionate and eyeopening piece. I plan on joining you in the fight to reduce/eliminate gun violence in our communities.

You have given me more inspiration to continue to help save the lives our the people around me.

Christine said...

I am so sorry for this very personal loss, and for the way we are all diminished by the senseless loss of a young life.


Change for Harlem said...

Thank the write up against gun Violence. We are trying our best in Harlem to make a solid difference. Rev. Vernon Williams is working tirelessly in the community and I am helping him as much as possible. We have to get illegal guns off our streets.