The news of 17-year-old Nathaniel Poindexter being shot to death at the Aurora Town Center knocked the wind out of me.
I know the Poindexter family, and have known them for over two decades. Denver’s black community is small like that. Families know families, and all the business therein. Therefore, it couldn’t help but hit close to home. He actually is someone’s child to me. I can literally see his family members when looking at his face.
Poindexter’s death was the latest in a string of apparently gang-involved shootings that swept the Denver and Aurora areas at the end of December, putting a cold chill onto an otherwise warm holiday season.
The next day, it was reported that police had a suspect in custody. Another black boy was the accused trigger man. Eighteen-year-old Kamyl Xavier Garrette was arrested on a first-degree murder charge shortly after the new year.
An altercation at the mall apparently escalated into gun violence. I remember being somewhat relieved that they caught him so quickly. It prevents further escalations of violence on the streets; street justice misses its target sometimes. Since this puts innocent community members at risk, justice is better handled by the law on the one hand.
On the other hand, when community violence erupts, it feels like a corrupt system gets a two-for-one deal. One black boy dead, another incarcerated means the cops and the coroner get paid. The news of the murder is sensationalized, and further justification is added to heavily policing black spaces. Then, the frighteningly cliché idea of irresponsible black “thugs” gets new names and faces.
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These faces can end up in the darnedest places. I remember when violence in Chicago made it across the desk of Bill O’Reilly on May 15, 2016.
In an apparent effort to call attention to racist neglect of these black communities, O’Reilly advocated for basically a police state in Chicago. He even called for then-mayor Rahm Emanuel to bring in the National Guard.
Amid shocking statistics of un-American gun violence, O’Reilly prosthelytized to those black neighborhoods, “You guys have gotta speak out. You have to march, you have to demonstrate, you have to protest.” The implication was that we only care if black people are killed by white cops, and turn a blind eye to community violence.
The damage was immediate and lasting. This set forth a false narrative that black communities have been trying to overcome since then, parroted by right-winger after right-winger. “What about Chicago?” echoes from their mouths when we try to bring attention to police violence. Around these parts, they might as well say, “What about Aurora?” or Montbello. “Why don’t black people care about so-called “black-on-black” crime?
Well, we do care … because we’re human. We’ve been addressing it from within our own communities for years, and will continue to do so. No, Mr. O’Reilly, more police aren’t the answer. Those who suggest that they are don’t seem to know or care about our history of being policed by structurally racist institutions, even when individual cops are not prejudiced.
The answer to community violence is more …. community, not more police. Risk factors for gang activity and violence have long been known to have been mitigated by programs that increase youth engagement. From Chicago’s “Violence Interrupters” to Denver’s own “Heavy Hands, Heavy Hearts” and “Project Exodus,” self-starting community activists divert kids from street life with or without cameras rolling.
I witnessed my community coming together once again after these recent shootings. This time, youth were at the forefront. Young Peter Lubembela, a native of Denver’s far Northeast, coordinated an event for all ages of black men.
Aptly titled, “Black Men Feed Denver,” the event had us not only making hundreds of sack lunches to give to the homeless, but opening up real dialogue among black men about what our role is as mentors in our community.
State Rep. James Coleman was a sponsor of the event. When his time came to speak, he elevated young Peter, and the youth who organized the event. Coleman setting the example of passing the torch was touching to watch, if only for the fact that whether the news was there to witness it or not, I saw my community unify.
The following week, five people were shot in a house party in Aurora. Two adults and three teens were hit. All survived, but our fragile hope in our community should have been counted among the wounded.
Here’s what revived that hope: If a kid decides not to shoot up a party, he won’t make the news. A bullet remaining in chamber never makes a sound. Black men graduating don’t make the FBI crime stats list … but it matters.
Hope matters as much as the black lives it continuously saves with no fanfare, and no spotlight. And whether the Bill O’Reilly’s of the world know it or not doesn’t matter as much as the lives we quietly save every single day.
But in case you’re wondering, damn right black people care about and confront violence in our own communities. Like the 1995 Million Man March, the eye of America likes to forget when we do. However, we brothas always remember, and keep marching on.
Theo Wilson is a poet, speaker, activist and CNN contributor. Learn more about him at TheoWilson.net.
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