Build an Army for Kids, Not Against Them

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I was mortified, if not really surprised, to see some of the angry responses to R.L. Nave's excellent cover story last week about the killing of Quardious Thomas. They ranged from the absurd—that you can't call the 20-year-old a victim or say that he was "killed" because he was (allegedly) breaking into a car—to the downright vicious and un-American defenses of the right to execute a young man before he's proved guilty of breaking into a car.

No investigation was needed, they allege repeatedly. Property crime should bring punishment by death. And it got worse. He was a "thug." He was one of "them," clearly raised by bad parents in "their culture."

Most of us know what they're saying.

Reading the comments, I couldn't help but think of the very different responses I read after the white Ole Miss student dragged a police officer to his death or a drunk white kid hit a car after leaving a reservoir, killing a family of children. Those young men were good kids who made a mistake, the reasoning went. But when it's black youth who screw up, they are thugs raised by terrible parents and deserve what happens to them.

Granted, this kind of "kill the thugs" rhetoric may be jarring, but can be expected from a certain unreformed element. Many Mississippians are familiar with people who were raised on the slavery-spawned myth that people of color are more violent, which served as a primary justification to keep segregation and even lynching in place; nearly always, an alleged crime was the rationale.

And our state had the most lynchings.

White people were raised here to believe that blacks—especially young men—were violent in order to justify brutality against them, keep the vote from them and ensure white supremacy (and control of wealth and opportunity) stayed in place. Sadly, the powerful have long pitted poor, uneducated whites against people of color: a divide-and-conquer strategy that keeps power and money where they want it. In other words, many of our people were taught to hate against their own interests—and too many still do.

Fortunately, fewer whites are now raised to believe that people of color are born or raised to be more violent—but too many still hold onto that learned myth. It's not like those beliefs went "poof" the minute the U.S. Supreme Court finally ended Mississippi segregation laws in 1970. Remember that a 60-year-old of today was 17 then and perhaps set in his beliefs.

It hasn't helped that we are suffering a new fear wave, fueled both by the gun lobby and conservative groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, which controls a number of legislators right here in Mississippi, is responsible for a wave of gun laws, such as Stand Your Ground and various versions of the Castle Doctrine, that allow and encourage individual citizens to put themselves in danger to fire on suspected criminals, not to mention to truncate the due-process laws that have long governed American criminal jurisprudence.

It's working. When I was growing up, I would often hear racist sentiments. But I did not often hear justification of stomping outside to blow away someone trying to break into your car. Or that someone was justified in stalking and then killing an unarmed teen who might do something bad.

We now have a black president, and probably because national figures like Sarah Palin made this kind of paranoia OK to again utter out loud, young blacks are becoming the hunted again. Even if they're unarmed, even if they're troubled, even if they're not doing a damn thing but buying Skittles. And don't even think about them having a right to self-defense against those stalking them.

I've said it before: It's not that some fools still hold these beliefs about non-whites that terrifies me so much; it's how many people will openly justify violence against "thugs" and come out and say things like "blacks commit more crimes in Jackson" (duh, in a city that is overwhelmingly majority-black).

You sure don't see the same kind of passion directed at the real violence that plagues every neighborhood in the metro, regardless of who lives there, their race, and how much education or money they have: sexual assault, incest, neglect and abuse of children, not to mention women.

But here's the thing: White people aren't the only ones turning their backs on young people of color. In the Quardious Thomas killing, every major player we know of who has not demanded or brought a real investigation is black. On the JFP Facebook page, a young black woman said he got what he deserved because he was (allegedly) breaking into the homeowner's car. Thus, the reasoning goes, it made sense that the homeowner grabbed his gun, went outside and fired six bullets into the unarmed Thomas. Oh, and then for the police and district attorney to drop the ball on the investigation.

Put another way, the Quardious Thomas case is probably not attracting national attention because the homeowner and the "investigators" are black. Thus, it matters less to national media, who would likely have jumped all over it had the shooter been white. We've seen that before, too.

The most horrifying irony of all of this, though, is that these attitudes actually increase crime. Don't take my word for it: The research is voluminous and easy to find (including in this GOOD Ideas issue).

Our nation's and state's history of demonizing, dehumanizing and executing young black men—often with an inadequate or no trial and for crimes they did not commit—has created the violent culture we have today. And the response that cruel and unusual punishment should be meted out without a judge or jury for property crime by certain people will only feed into violence going forward.

Not to mention, the kinds of severe legal punishment that befalls non-whites more often than whites for lesser (and often drug-related) crimes contributes to recidivism.

That is great news for the gun lobby, which gets to sell more guns as a result, and groups like ALEC that thrive only if fewer people can vote against their bought-and-sold legislators (they push voter ID, too).

But if you're a citizen who wants your families and your friends and your neighbors to be safer, please don't jump down the nonsensical and brutal rabbit hole where young people are riddled with bullets for breaking a window to gladiator-like applause.

Instead, I urge you to join a growing army of people, including right here in the metro, who believe that all God's children deserve a chance to live, grow and prosper regardless of the family circumstances they were born into. This GOOD Ideas issue is dedicated to every young person in Jackson.

Comments

Turtleread 9 months ago

What I find appalling is an absolute position that you seem to take. So let me ask you, what would you have done? The reason I ask is because an absolute position reminds me so much of the anti-abortion foes that show up to protest the lone women's clinic we have left in Mississippi here in Jackson.

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js1976 9 months ago

"Those young men were good kids who made a mistake, the reasoning went."

Those may have been good kids at one time, but that doesn't excuse their actions. Quardious may have been a good kid at one time but made a tragic mistake to step on to someone else's property that night.

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Turtleread 9 months ago

I agree, however it was not that he just stepped on someone else's property, but that he also committed a crime, was in the act of committing a crime, refused to surrender, refused to exit the car, and made a motion like he was going for a weapon. He did all the things that had there been a police officer there, he still would have been shot.

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donnaladd 9 months ago

Tutleread, that's really easy to answer, Turtleread. I absolutely would not have gone outside with a gun and unloaded it into someone trying to break into my car. That is absurd to suggest.

As for what he did that night, we don't really know. There has not been a thorough investigation that the public is aware of -- and this is the point.

We get that you think it was fine so no need to keep restating it. That's a pretty absolute viewpoint as well.

Also, there is a long way between excusing any crime (which I don't) to justifying blowing away an unarmed person (allegedly) trying to commit a property crime. So please don't make the dumb assumption that someone is justifying any bad behavior by saying that the response was cruel and unusual. That is extraordinary binary thinking and just make the person making such an assumption look like, well, you know.

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Turtleread 9 months ago

Thank you Ms. Ladd for replying to my question. I am just trying to understand your perspective. From my perspective, I certainly would not step out of my house and use deadly force against a trespasser doing nothing but crossing the property, but someone breaking into my car or my house is a different thing. Personally, I don't carry a gun and see no reason why I need one to attend church, go to a store, attend a sporting event, or go to a political event, or concert. My viewpoint varies on deadly force depending on the circumstances and the situation and it is not as absolute as you believe it to be.

In your last paragraph, you are bringing in assumptions "not in evidence" to support an argument that goes to the motivation of my argument. That seems like "logical vapor" to me.

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Scott1962 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm sorry.... but how many young black men have been hunted down and killed by the great white satan in recent memory?

And where are these typical average Mississippians who would say the boy who killed the black man on Ellis Avenue was a "good kid with good parents who just made a mistake" while at the same time condemning the upbringing of a black kid who steals a bicycle?

Why is this particular situation an example of slavery spawned myths since there's no way they could know the true series of events leading up to it but your assumption that it's without a doubt an example racism spoken as the known truth?

Since they were investigating the scene while you were back at JFP deciding what to order for lunch, then why should we take all of your assumptions as fact? It seems you may be wrong on this one Donna... whoa! take a deep breath! I was just kidding

And last, if the homeowner, the powers that be, and the man shot were all black then exactly how does the mention of myths spawned by evil white men and Mississippi's gold medal for lynchings fit into a story that is completely void of white people if I'm reading this correctly?

I'm sorry... one more. Is there any story, anywhere, anytime, about any thing that you would lack the ability to somehow find a way to inject the very worst of Mississippi's past into it? And is there any given situation that may involve a black man doing something wrong that would lead you to actually say he was responsible for his own decisions rather than telling me it's my fault because of the color of my skin?

Outside of that I hope you and yours have a very Merry Christmas or Festivus or whatever would be the politically correct, non offensive way of my wishing you the best for the next 10 days or so.

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Turtleread 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Ms. Ladd, this story appeared in the Clarion-Ledger several years back and it shook me to my foundations, and to this day I have no doubt but that evil is loose in the world. Three black boys, ages 12, 10, and 8 were walking about Jackson. They got thirsty. So they stopped by this house and the two older boys went up to it while the younger waited outside. An elderly black man answered the door, let the boys into his house, and gave them water as they asked. They killed him. They also took the keys to his Cadillac and all three went joy-riding around town. They told the younger what had happened. When they were stopped by the police and caught, the younger boy "told" what had happened. He got sent to reform school until he is 21, but the two older boys will be in prison until they are 64! How does that work? Do they walk out of prison and into a nursing home or work until they die? One life taken, two ruined, and another one damaged. At 8, 10, or 12, I never would have even contemplated doing such a thing! Now there's a story to investigate--Why did they do what they did? I think that what Dr. King said is so true, that it is the content of your character that counts, not the color of your skin.

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