Attitudes that can kill

It is Saturday morning, and I am prodding my son and daughter to get dressed in order to tour a historic black neighborhood, Macedonia/Bagley Park, that once existed in Buckhead. Beginning in the 1940s, Atlanta officials razed this and other black neighborhoods, displacing hundreds of families.

While I am hurriedly placing the oatmeal in boiling water and scrambling eggs, an elderly white neighbor rings the doorbell. Politely, we say good morning.

My neighbor begins. “Here is the latest flier. Somebody tried to steal a lady’s car Tuesday. We are going to have to be on the lookout because these people don’t care and will hurt you.”

This flier, like others, is replete with statements of how “thugs” and “immigrants” contribute to the decline of the neighborhood and America. Countless times, I have asked him to avoid using this kind of language. I repeat my concerns.

“Most young black males walking around here are not trying to rob anyone. They just want to have fun with their friends.” I describe how too many black males are pushed out of schools and into prisons where they learn criminal behavior. I see the agitation welling on his face. I continue, “They are not inherent criminals. That is why I always talk to young people and play Sunday morning football with them at the nearby park.”

My neighbor responds, “Jerome, that is the kind of attitude that is not good. I am talking, but you are all nonchalant about the matter. You are all intellectual and everything, but these same people will break into your house and rape your wife!” I immediately say, “Man, don’t use that example. You are provoking fear.”

My wife hears the conversation and attempts to diffuse tension. Then my neighbor points his finger at my wife, and we quickly tell him to remove it. I knew that if I had fully engaged him, the situation could have escalated. We politely lead him out the door.

My thoughts go to Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and Michael Brown. How George Zimmerman profiled Trayvon, instigated a confrontation, and then killed him. How Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson profiled Michael, possibly instigated a confrontation, and then killed him. And I think about how my 11-year-old son, like many young black males, might get profiled. That is the attitude that kills young black people.

On the drive home, my children and I ride past Little Five Points, an artsy section of Atlanta. Young white males with tattoos and piercings walk the streets, smoking cigarettes and drinking. No one accosts them; no one harasses them; fortunately, no one kills them.

The words of the freedom fighter Ella Baker come to mind: “Until the killing of black men, black mother’s sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.”