It go Halle Berry or hallelujah/Pick ya poison, tell me what you doin'/Everybody gon' respect the shooter/But the one in front of the gun lives forever" - Kendrick Lamar feat. Jay Rock "Money Trees"
Kendrick Lamar's a cold cat, ain't he? (I know, I know - old people slang alert)
Such a memorable and relevant phrase in that song given the recent rash of violence that has plagued my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio and also hit too close to home for my liking. In recent weeks, there's been teenagers rioting at the world's largest indoor amusement park, disregarding the livelihoods of parents and children, let alone themselves. Then there was a shootout not far from where my mother works between individuals driving up and down a residential street, the scene playing out like something out of an action movie. This act of violence claimed the lives of a 15-year old boy and a Cleveland State University adjunct professor caught in the crossfire.
While reading the news reports of each story, as well as the comments and social media chatter regarding them, I talked with my Talented 6 brothers about why this is happening. Is the world coming to an end? Is this current generation of youth lost? We kicked around a few causes and possible explanations, but none of us could come to a consensus.
And then I got to thinking - does death even matter to people anymore? Do we actually mourn those killed by senseless acts of violence, or do we use their death as a platform to garner attention towards our own agendas? When we say "RIP," are we actually wishing that their souls rest peacefully forever in heaven, or is it just something popular to post on social media? Why isn't the life of a fellow human being valued as much as our own?
I'm not one for rhetorical statements, so here's what I figured out. We live in a world full of people dealing with deep-rooted and often times, unaddressed issues of insecurity and vulnerability. Now these issues could be the result of several different factors; non-traditional upbringing, lack of structure in the household, an environment non-conducive to success or maybe its all that got-dang hippity hoppity music (sound the old people slang alert one more time.) Whatever the case may be, it's caused too many people who were raised under these conditions to perceive life in a negative, hateful and invaluable manner.
Insecure boys masquerading as men trying to prove themselves to instigating parties who don't care about their well-being, causing those boys to go to extreme measures to enforce their manhood. Kids afraid of being left out joining cliques, sets and gangs to feel a part of something now feel compelled to protect it at all costs, especially if putting it on social media as a hashtag or throwing up hand signs in pictures isn't enough. Add in all kinds of influences from the current popular music, and these lost souls think it's cool to imitate lyrics filled with careless drug use, rampant violence and disrespect to women. Understand that I'm not "blaming" any one thing like some people love to do. I'm merely observing behaviors and constructing possible hypotheses. IT'S SCIENCE!! *Bill Nye the Science Guy voice*
This is how we end up with hundreds of teenagers engaged in a public place "bang-out" and people driving around town shooting at each other in broad daylight. We must do better in our communities to encourage more positive behaviors from these at-risk youth; more empowerment and less judgement from us talented and successful individuals is crucial to their future. And a change in behavior first requires a change in mindset, especially with regards to how we view life and death. There is no glory in taking someone's life, no matter how attractive trap music makes it sound. Murderers are cowards - point blank period. Whenever I see someone exclaiming for the freedom of their friend from prison, I wish they would've went as hard to help steer them away from such devastating consequences. I wish someone could've stepped in and encouraged that person to follow their inner talent rather than succumb to existential pressures that have now negatively affected that person's future.
I lost a cousin this week to another senseless act of violence. His name was Jermaine Davis II and he was only 23 years old. He's my aunt's husband's nephew and their extended family is much like blood to me and my small but nuclear relatives. I never met Jermaine in person, but my uncle was so proud of him having the opportunity to play Division 1 basketball at LaSalle University in Philadelphia and Texas Southern University in Houston. About a month ago, we talked for the first time, as I was trying to get him a job at my former employer. I was looking forward to connecting with him at the family reunion this summer and getting to know him better. He wasn't in the streets or involved in any mess, but unfortunately was a bystander who became a target. His little brother was also injured in the altercation, and I pray for his speedy recovery as hard as I am praying for his mother and other extended family during this trying time.
Jermaine's name will live forever, and I hope that justice prevails in finding the person responsible. But please understand that life is valuable, and that death still does matter; don't wait until it hits close to home to do something about it. RIP Jermaine, we're all going to miss you dearly.