Looking in the Mirror

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Perhaps Taylor’s death will help us rise above statistics

 Mr. Williams article touched me so much, that I had to repost it here on my blog. 

By MICHAEL PAUL WILLIAMS

TIMES-DISPATCH COLUMNIST

If raw statistical data is the mortar that seals our fate, you can only wish Sean Taylor had been just a tad older.

Taylor, 24, the Washington Redskins safety, was slain four months short of graduating from America’s most vulnerable demographic group.

According to 2005 Bureau of Justice Statistics, the homicide rate for black males between the ages of 18 and 24 was more than double that of black males age 25 and older. Homicide rates for black people overall were six times higher than the rates for whites.

Whatever state of affairs has formed these statistical icebergs makes life risky to navigate for young black men, even if they’re affluent, famous or the son of a police chief, like Taylor.

“I was just heartstruck to learn [yes terday] that he had died,” said the Rev. Canon Alonzo C. Pruitt, rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and chaplain of the Richmond City Jail. “It’s another tragic part of the price we pay for this war of black men on black men. It’s one of the terrible vestiges of racism — that having been hated for so long, we have learned to hate ourselves.”

Forgive Pruitt’s assumption, or mine. But nearly 95 percent of black victims are killed by blacks. Taylor appears to be a link in a tragic, blood-stained chain that is systematically sending black men to the prison or the grave.

Taylor came out of a University of Miami football program feared and revered for its jacked-up attitude and outlaw trappings. That attitude seemed to follow Taylor into pro football, where he had several legal scrapes — one involving his brandishing of a handgun. But more recent accounts suggested that fatherhood had matured him.

Unfortunately, the so-called thug life has become as ingrained in the football culture as yard markers. Perhaps for some of these young men, it’s a misguided form of empowerment.

Whereas so-called gangster rappers tried to convince us that they were real-life Scarfaces outside the recording studio, athletes have been turning up in police reports as alleged perps or as victims. Eleven months ago, Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was shot and killed in Denver.

These are the folks our young people look up to. If they represent hope in life, their deaths cut a wider swath of despair. But this, like all tragedies, comes with lessons.

Or as Pruitt said: “More people will notice it because of his celebrity. But hopefully, they will notice that wealth is not going to save you.”

What will save us?

“We need to each one of us commit some time each day to loving as many people as we can, especially angry, powerless people,” he said.

“Leadership doesn’t belong to a particular individual,” Pruitt said. “It has to be a communal experience. It’s not like we can go pull the wizard from behind the curtain to make it better. We all have to make it better.”

We’re a celebrity-obsessed society. The loss of a distant celebrity should carry less sting than the deaths in our own communities. But perhaps Taylor’s death will galvanize us against this ethos of violence.

Who knows? Maybe athletes will take a leadership role in steering young black men from the streets. And maybe, someday, “18 to 24” will represent a beginning and not an end.
Contact Michael Paul Williams at (804) 649-6815 or mwilliams@timesdispatch.com.