The Assault on Black Men and Boys in America

This and the next several issues of The New Orleans Tribune will highlight and feature issues critical to the Black man in America. This issue is devoted to telling the unpleasant truth about situations Black men in America face from both a historical perspective as well as current conditions.

by Anitra D. Brown

Black men and boys from across the city converge for the Man Up march in October.

What prompted us here at The New Orleans Tribune to designate the assault on Black males in America the story of the year?

Well, it’s more than the two separate grand jury decisions—one in St. Louis County, Missouri and the other in Staten Island, New York—to not indict police officers that killed unarmed Black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively.

And it’s more than that their incomprehensible deaths at the hands of White police officers will seemingly go unpunished.

It’s more than the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, gunned down by Cleveland police officers within seconds of their arrival after getting a call about a young Black male brandishing a (toy) gun in a park.

To be sure, those incidents are enough to raise ire, stir concern and launch the mass protests in cities across the nation. They take us back to a time nearly 60 years past when the murder of Emmett Till drew plenty of shock and disgust, but no justice.

And that would be enough. But it’s more.

It’s double digit unemployment rates. It’s inequality in education, economics and opportunity that only fuel violence and a deepening sense of despair within our community even as Black men, especially, also remain the target of hostility and brutality from the outside.

It all has drawn more attention lately to what it means to be a Black man in this country today.

Walter Umrani joins others taking part in a criminal justice session at the recent NOLA For Life symposium.
Walter Umrani joins others taking part in a criminal justice session at the recent NOLA For Life symposium.

In October, Dillard University partnered with St. Augustine High School to host a Black Male Summit  in view of the recent incidents in Florida, Missouri, New York, and other areas of the country involving law enforcement and Black males.

The summit was an opportunity for officials and students to talk about the issues impacting Black male success in New Orleans and across the nation, according to a printed statement about the event.

“For the past few years our nation has witnessed high profile tragedies involving Black men, like Trayvon Martin and now, Mike Brown,” Dillard President Walter Kimbrough said in a statement. “Black men have had a complex history with not only law enforcement, but each other. So we hope this forum can be a way to improve these relationships so that we can avoid unarmed Black men from being killed, by anyone,”

Also in October, Black men from across the city took part in the Man Up New Orleans march to address issues impacting the Black community. The march was organized by Willie Muhammad and other community activists.

Also, a recent symposium called by Mayor Mitch Landrieu in conjunction with NOLA FOR LIFE and the President’s My Brother’s Keeper initiatives, was held  to focus on dialogue aimed at reducing homicides and addressing other issues that disproportionately impact Black men at a time that noticeably coincides with the amplified attention on Black males.

What appears to be heightened interest in the plight of the Black man both here and across the nation is not happenstance. In fact, there is a good reason behind it all. And it is long overdue.

The Black man is in trouble in America. His image, his livelihood and his very life have always been under attack. And by extension, his families and communities are in trouble as well.

It seems that the silent genocide against Black men in America is not so silent at all. And the statistics are sobering.

In the area of education:

Only 45 percent of Black males graduate from high school.

Thirty-two percent of all students suspended from school are Black (most of them are male).

In unemployment and economics:

At comparable education levels, Black men earn 67 percent of what White men make.

White males with a high school diploma are just as likely to have a job and tend to earn just as much as Black males with college degrees.

Forty-five percent of Black children live below the poverty line, compared to 16 percent of White children.

In incarceration and crime:

Blacks, who comprise 12 percent of the population and 13 percent of drug users, constitute 35 percent of all arrests for drug possession, 55 percent of all convictions on drug charges and 74 percent of all those sentenced to prison for possession.

Blacks comprise 12 percent of the country’s population, but 44 percent of all prisoners in the United States.

A young Black male in American is more likely to die from gunfire than was any soldier in Vietnam.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that one out of every 21 Black men can expect to be murdered.

More than 1.46 million Black men out of a total voting population of 10.4 million have lost their right to vote because of felony convictions.

Is It Enough?

Still, like many, New Orleanians Lenard Veal questions whether the meetings or the movements are enough to really address the issues.

Veal, who attended the two-day NOLA FOR LIFE symposium held at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans is skeptical that any outcome from the conference will make a real difference in the lives of Black men like him, struggling to make a living, but hampered by their pasts. Job training and re-entry programs mean nothing without policy changes, says Veal, who laments that a more than 20-year-old felony narcotics conviction keeps him from driving a taxi cab in New Orleans. That is one policy local officials could examine and change if they wanted to, he says.

“I have been coming to these meetings since 2000,” says Veal. “We still are dying in the streets every night. We still don’t have jobs. We have a problem in Central City, but you’re holding a meeting at a downtown hotel. Over 50 percent of Black men in New Orleans are unemployed. They wonder why those guys can’t find a job. It has to start with policy change. Who is going to fight for policy change in Baton Rouge. I did my time and haven’t been in trouble since. But I can’t get a job Wal-Mart because I sold drugs over 20 years ago.”

To the credit of Mayor Landrieu and his administration, the Economic Opportunity Strategy was launched this past fall to connect citizens with the most need with viable job opportunities with specific attention to working age Black men in New Orleans, for whom the unemployment rate is 52 percent.

Through the initiative, disadvantaged job seekers, many of whom are faced with challenges such as criminal histories, will get case management and workforce training with the ultimate objective of being employed by one of eight agencies and institutions partnered with the city on the initiative.

Meanwhile, Veal’s rant is not exclusively focused on elected and appointed leadership, though. He soon turns his criticism on his community.

“But it’s our fault,” he says. “The system is broken. It’s going to always be broken. But we line up every day to spend our money (with businesses we don’t own).”

Without a doubt, the Black man in America is in trouble. And as Lenard Veal points out, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Then again, that the Black man’s existence in America has been and is plagued is no headline—not really. It is not news at all. The Black man’s existence and persona in America has historically been marked by violence and brutality, negative images, erroneous propaganda, stereotypes, and systematic marginalization propelled by policy and practice.

We recognize that here at The New Orleans Tribune, and it saddens and enrages us. It always has. Nearly 30 years ago we spoke out regarding the plight of the Black male, some times taking criticism for doing so.  For that reason this and the next several issues of The Tribune will be devoted to the Black man. In subsequent issues, we will profile strong and confident Black men who have and are contributing great things to society. And that also is nothing new for us. We have done this now for nearly 30 years—telling our own stories in ways no one else will, especially when no one else does. It is why this paper was founded. It is why we exist.

But this issue is devoted to telling the unpleasant truth about conditions Black men in America. From the double-digit unemployment that outpaces any other group to police brutality, from negative stereotypes to negative images perpetuated by media and pop culture.

Attacking his Image and his Life

From images as docile, ignorant, almost child-like during slavery to the post-slavery depiction of the Black brute to today’s images of Black men as dangerous criminals and thugs, an all-out assault on the Black man’s image in America was waged with the first slave ship that arrived on America’s shores.

Those concocted images were needed as justification. If the Black man was meek, unenlightened and dependent, he needed to be enslaved so that his master could care for him. But the free Black man needed to be seen as an aggressive beast, an animalistic brute, to lend credence to the invented notion that the newly freed Blacks, especially Black men, were a danger and a threat, especially to White women. The fabrication of the Black brute justified the lynching of Black people and validated the Ku Klux Klan and the establishment of Jim Crow.

To be sure, the proliferation of the Black man’s image as monstrous, animalistic and hostile was so powerful that it helped to create the conditions that made America a place where more than 3,400 Black people (mostly men) could be lynched from 1882 to 1951. That propaganda was so powerful that in 1921, the U.S. Senate could not bring itself to pass the Dyer Bill, anti-lynching legislation that would have created federal penalties for states and municipalities that refused to protect their Black citizens from lynch mobs.

Here is a sample of some of the rhetoric White, Southern lawmakers used to kill the bill.

Rep. Percy Quin of Mississippi:

“Whenever an infamous outrage is committed upon a [Southern] White woman the law is enforced by the neighbors of the woman who has been outraged? The colored people of [the South] realize the manner of that enforcement, and that is the one method by which the horrible crime of rape has been held down where the Negro element is in a large majority. The man who believes that the Negro race is all bad is mistaken. But you must recollect that there is an element of barbarism in the black man, and the people around where he lives recognize that fact.”

Rep. Thomas Sisson of Mississippi:

“As long as rape continues lynching will continue. For this crime, and this crime alone, the South has not hesitated to administer swift and certain punishment….We are going to protect our girls and womenfolk from these black brutes. When these black fiends keep their hands off the throats of the women of the South then lynching will stop…”

Make no mistake about it. In the 21st century, the Black brute propaganda has just been replaced by the “young thug” hysteria to justify the killings of young Black men today. Sen. Quin and Rep. Sisson’s ruminations more than 90 years ago are no different than comments and action of late used in an attempt to validate the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown or Jordan Davis, and so many other Black men killed by police, White people, or even other Black men.

For example:

“Live like a thug; die like a thug.” – Former NOPD officer Jason Giroir about Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

The Ferguson Police Departments decision to release footage of Michael Brown allegedly shoplifting cigars from and pushing a clerk at a convenience store before the unarmed teen was gunned down by Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson.

The now-defunct policy of the New Orleans Police Department to release the arrest records, no matter how old and regardless of whether convictions actually resulted in those cases, of murder victims (many of whom were young, Black males likely killed by other young, Black males).

To be sure, each of these efforts are designed to suggest that young, Black men today are somehow a wholesale threat to society and as such have no right to life, which then makes it perfectly okay for them to be killed in the streets of Sanford, Fla. by overzealous, if not racist Neighborhood Watch participants or shot dead in Ferguson, Mo., by cops, killed by police using chokeholds in New York, shot and killed in Jacksonville, Fla., by random, angry White men bothered by the sound of “thug music” being played too loudly, or even gunned down by each other right here in New Orleans in petty street wars over turf, drugs, money and reputations.

With that said, one of the highlights of the NOLA FOR LIFE symposium was a panel discussion led by Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough and native New Orleanian David Augustine, known better as Dee-1, a former teacher turned Hip-Hop artists whose positive lyrics are his trademark. And their discourse reminds that money, demand and media consumption also play a large role in the imagery that saturates popular culture and media.

Attacking his Livelihood

As if fighting to ensure that his life is valued and rising above repeated offensives against his essence were not enough, Black men today continue to face very real issues such as double-digit unemployment rates, mass incarceration, education disparities, and economic inequality that hamper his ability to uplift his community. We say it is by design.

Social policies that cut out men in order to assist children have helped to create conditions in which many Black men are no longer the heads of households. Meanwhile, more than 53 percent of Black men aged 25-34 are either unemployed or earn too little to lift a family of four from poverty.

Black men are coming in dead last in every category that is good, and they are topping off the list in every area that is bad. They have the highest unemployment rates, the highest incarceration rates, the highest high school dropout rates, and the number one cause of death for Black males between the ages of 15-24 is homicide. They have the lowest high school graduation rates, with only 54 percent finishing high school. And they are 2.5 times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their White counterparts.

At comparable educational levels, Black men earn a fraction of what White men make.

White males with a high-school diploma are just as likely to have a job and tend to earn just as much as Black males with college degrees.

In a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world, African-American males fill prisons nationwide in disproportionate numbers, comprising 1 million out of the total 2.3 million incarcerated—more than 43 percent of all incarcerated men, while only making up about 12 percent of the nation’s population. If the trend continues, one in three Black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime. With that, they are also the most civilly disenfranchised population in America. One estimate tells that 1.46 million Black men out of a total voting population of 10.4 million have lost their right to vote because of felony convictions.

We know that the headline for this editorial “Black Man Down” is bleak. To us, though, it is a dire truth that we will not understate. We will neither hide it nor sugarcoat it.

But there is more. We know these bleak numbers and even sadder stories of the lives of Black men cut short are just part of their narrative. We know that anything America owes Black folk, short of an apology, will not be offered up. And because of that, we know that if the direction of their narrative in America will change, Black men will have to change it. And black communities, especially Black women, will have to support and encourage them.

They know that too. That is why so many hardworking, honest, industrious Black men toil each day to support their families, lift their communities. They own businesses, run major corporations and lead colleges and universities. They drive city buses, teach our children, work in hotels and restaurants, and keep us safe as part of our police and fire fighting forces. Like Lloyd Dennis and the dozens of Black men that devote their time to Silverback Society, they serve as mentors. Like Willie Muhammad and Walter Umrani, they are community leaders and peace keepers. Like Norman Francis, Walter Kimbrough and Victor Ukpolo, they lead our institutions of higher learning. Like Leonard Galmon, they give us such hope and beat the odds by entering one the nation’s top Ivy League schools.

They are our husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, cousins, uncles, neighbors and friends; and we aim to celebrate them. So yes, we know, this headline is bleak. But we must acknowledge that the Black man is down so that we can help lift him up.

We Are Proud to Have Served Our Community for 38 Years. Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Providing a Trusted Voice. We Look Forward to 38 More!