When the old man said we would suffer the sins of the fathers, I was never sure what he meant. Now I am. The problem is how we keep suffering for those same sins. And why.
Last week, Republican strategist Frank Luntz admitted to PBS’ Frontline what many Americans have known these past four years. That the GOP strategy in Congress, devised the evening of President Obama’s first inaugural, was to fight the Executive and the Democrats on every measure. The result of what some might see as ‘soft treason’ has been four years of slogging through legislation with the GOP having absolutely no intention of aiding the leader of our nation.
The purpose was to cut the President off at the knees, rendering him politically impotent. Some in the Democratic base, in light of the historic fear and treatment of black men in white America, view this tactic as pure bigotry toward a President whose father was a black African. Even so, some Americans who disagree with some of the Presidents decisions claim they are allowed to do so without being viewed simply as bigots.
The NRA, as an unelected arm of the Republican Party, remains lockstep with those in Congress who play at working with the President. In truth, they waste little time with the Democrats. Instead, the NRA spends its time and dollars on ads attacking him.
By falsely claiming the President is ‘elitist’ for having the Secret Service guard his children, the NRA has once again sought to divide Americans from our common mission of raising our children in mutual safety. By ignoring the fact that federal law enacted in 1951 requires the Secret Service to guard the first family, the NRA has cynically sought to gain political ground in the upcoming debates over gun control in Congress.
Last week, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley rescinded plans to build a new, $70 million juvenile prison here in Baltimore in his 2013 budget. Shouts of joy were heard across the city and state from advocates for less imprisonment and more treatment for young offenders. Still, the advocates joy has been tempered because Maryland still intends to build a facility to house juveniles charged with less severe offenses at a cost of $30 million.
In 2013, we know we will have somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 murders in Baltimore despite the best efforts of police and the good citizens of this city. We know that at least 80% of those murdered will be black and two thirds of the dead will be under 35 years old. We also know that most of the murders will be attributable to the drug trade and gang warfare.
Like the NRA, many youth advocacy groups in Baltimore use an ‘us against them’ mentality when it comes to causes of illegal activity of black teenagers. In repeatedly citing the history of racist behavior this nation has shown Black America, it views so much of the current plight of young black men along this isolated continuum.
Many advocates take a cynical view that the solutions to black youth incarceration would become clearer if only white people would understand how racist this nation really is. What’s more, in over identifying with color, many advocates seem intent on viewing this city and nation much the same way many whites viewed it during the Jim Crow and Antebellum eras.
Today, President Obama takes the oath of office for a second time. If his first term in office unearthed anything, it is that so much of what were deemed ‘culture wars’ are really very American class wars. In peeling back so many layers of jive and spin, we can see so many groups disaffected and isolated. We can also see how so many of these groups’ strongest beliefs, held preciously within their own precincts, hold less water under a national light of day.
Many youth advocates in Maryland have pressured city and state leaders to instill various forms of Restorative Justice, touted as part of a greater anti-incarceration movement of diversionary programs by think tanks such as the Burns Institute in California. As well, the NRA has placed pressure on the Congress to fund and enforce so many of the laws already in place before legislating more.
While both gun and juvenile advocates offer good ideas, so much of their public pressure comes in the form of demands that in effect say ‘if you just let me have my way, we’d all be better off’. Such Fascist like behavior leaves the majority of us, regardless of color, tired of always having to be the only adult in the conversation.
Restorative Justice is a good, solid set of ideas that can be replicated in any jurisdiction in the nation. This is key to its success. Still, it is only part and parcel of the equation because it focuses only on endgame strategies, after a youth has offended. In Baltimore, using ‘Community Courts’ will aid few families without bringing in the whole package of drug rehabilitation for parents and greater employment to this city.
The NRA’s insistence on enforcement of existing laws and funding of institutions to tackle the trafficking of illegal guns is smart. Still, ignoring how many guns are sold with weak background checks to straw buyers is to ignore how guns get to the streets of Baltimore. Only a national database of all guns, owners, dealers and transactions, once partially touted by the NRA, will begin the process of keeping guns out of the hands of those who would take human life.
Both gun and youth advocates insist on externalizing their problems. Both say the solutions are beyond their scope yet insist they have all the answers. Both are wrong and most of America knows it.
Contrary to what some believe, we are not a static nation. If we look across the Atlantic to Northern Ireland and it’s latest round of secular protests and violence, we can see a static society beginning again. After 15 good years of profound growth, prosperity and peace, a part of Britain is on the precipice of returning to it’s bad old self.
We are imperfect. That’s how God made us. In the debate over guns and youth violence, the cart of our fears is squarely before the horse, impeding his step. It’s up to us to work together, work beyond our perceptions and fears and create a greater and more perfect Union.
Robert Emmet Mara has been in Baltimore since 2006. A native New Yorker, Robert came to Baltimore to do three things: work with kids, renovate houses and write a second book of fiction. Since his arrival, he has managed to do all three and more.
He has sought better oversight for his still blighted Harwood neighborhood from the city and has been asked to speak to various community association leaders on the subject of city agency relations.