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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Friday, December 08, 2006

Can't Bite My Tongue

I have a confession to make. I am stubborn. There are times I'd rather bite my tongue than speak up and give "an enemy" a chance to say "I told you so!"

This is one of those times, but I can't bite my tongue. Wouldn't be right. Recently, I took to task another South Florida Blogger, for making what I felt were broad generalizations about black people. He scolded "the" black community, as though we were all of one mind and one voice, for focusing on the wrong issue in a recent series of fatal police shootings (of five suspects - four black, one white) in Fort Lauderdale. He said that instead of berating police, the families and friends of the suspects should look inside and ask how their young men ended up in face-offs with police, while: driving a car-jacked vehicle, carrying weapons, and allegedly ramming cars and nearly striking officers.

The funny thing is no one asked me my opinion. And that's the problem with broad generalizations. People with differing opinions count for nothing, because they're cast in giant groups, rather than as individuals.

But let's move beyond that. I think the guy I scolded had the right idea, even if he was wrong in how he addressed people.

You want to investigate the police shootings - as is being done now by state and federal authorities, go ahead. There's nothing wrong with a check and balance system to make sure that all the i's were dotted and t's crossed and that these shootings were righteous.

But let's also at least ask how most of these men ended up going down self-destructive paths long before the shootings. One man had a record of drug and assault violations. Had anyone close to him who is lamenting the shootings now encouraged him recently to clean his life up? I'm not saying they didn't. I'm just asking. But I dare anyone to tell me with a straight face that if he had gone down a different path when he was younger he still would have ended up in a stolen, car-jacked vehicle with police in his face. Anything's possible. But the odds are high he wouldn't have been in that situation.

It's not the PC thing to say, but if you don't ride around in cars that have been jacked your chances of ending up in a deadly conflict with police are much lower. If you don't refuse to drop the weapon - that you probably shouldn't be carrying in the first place - your chances of ending up in a deadly conflict with police are much lower. If you place your car in park, rather than continuing to drive after after officers tell you to stop, your chances of ending up in a deadly conflict with police are much lower.

I'm not suggesting anyone deserved to be shot. That's nuts. I'm just saying these guys' troubles did not start with being shot. It's about time people acknowledge that the path we choose (or get put on, or are led down) when we're young can lead to dire consequences later in life.

Here's my attempt at logic: When I was younger, the adults in my life - and not just my parents, for those people who didn't have one or both parents - would have beaten me like I stole something if I...stole something, robbed someone, etc. They would've beaten me like Orphan Annie if they'd found out I had even considered that stuff. Fast-forward to today. Because I was effectively discouraged from criminal behavior when I was younger, the odds are high that I'm gonna try to avoid it today.

This isn't a black thing. It's a home training thing. A personal responsibility thing. A choices thing.

Investigate the shootings. If they were dirty, then make the cops pay. And if they were clean then put that energy into steering impressionable boys in the right direction before they grow up and become troubled or troublesome men.

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  • You remind me of a friend of mine who just happens to be black. He recently chastised me for some of my opinions.

    "You can't go to church with your mother?" he says, shaking his head. "Poor woman."

    By Blogger Matt, at 11:19 AM  

  • It all comes down to personal responsibility.

    Oh, and when I was young, my dad caught me EVERY time I lied. I got spanked so hard I never wanted to do it again. So there is something to parental influence in your formative years.

    By Blogger The Dummy, at 11:27 AM  

  • Oh, and by the way:

    Roll call!

    By Blogger The Dummy, at 11:27 AM  

  • I agree 100%. It reminds me of two other similar instances that sort of made me sick to my stomach: 1) Marion Barry, and 2) Mike Tyson.

    Why did people continue to support these two after they'd clearly broken the law? Why did Sylvia's, a famous soul food restaurant in Harlem, sponsor a "welcome home" parade for Mike Tyson after he was released from prison (for raping an young black woman)?

    There's a disconnect somewhere.

    By Blogger bc, at 11:59 AM  

  • No one asked your opinion?

    I've always wanted to be the biracial spokesperson. That way, when people have questions, they will look to me as a source of expert information. I will, of course, make things up.

    By Blogger mist1, at 12:38 PM  

  • matt, tsk tsk. i know why you won't go to church. won't crossing the threshold cause you to catch fire? kidding.

    dummy, i feel ya. i got spanked so much i thought my name was "this is gonna hurt me more than you." but hey, i may not have reached the pinnacle, but i have sense enough now to not get caught up in situations that involve cops pointing guns at me.

    bc, thank you! folks have to quit supporting an individual just 'cause he or she looks like them. i don't get it. when i was a crime reporter i can't count the times other black folks got in my face and scolded me for reporting "negative news" about a black man. but the critics never said "thanks for exposing that dirt ball," considering he was selling drugs to black children or turning out black women, or committing violence against another black person for profit.

    mist1 let's start a union, declaring ourselves the official spokespeople of...whoever the hell we want to speak for.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 12:59 PM  

  • James, I don't have to ask your opinion or anybody's to give mine. You were wrong in taking it that way. When I say "the African American community" I don't mean to include every single individual because that would be absurd. Same with the Jewish community, the Cubans or whatever other generalization you want to bring up. The larger point of the post was EXACTLY what you ended up saying now. The rest is nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking.

    Your beef should be with the people at that meeting, the local NAACP leaders, the local elected leaders and the other assorted people who call themselves leaders of the black community and claim to speak for all of them. Scold them and take them to task sometime.

    Now for the rest: You want to say it's not a black thing and that's obviously true if you want to focus only on personal responsibility, the immediate family and what they could have done with those kids. Fine. But you know those 200 people at the meeting were not up in arms because two guys got shot - they were up in arms because they believe there's a predisposition to shoot black people by the police. That is not an isolated belief and is exploited by the race baiters. Nobody at that meeting was saying "hey we knew they were bad seeds and they were going to end up badly", instead they were screaming at the police. Ignoring the deep racial tensions at the core of those incidents is just burying the head in the sand.

    By Anonymous Alex, at 8:03 PM  

  • Alex, did you even read this post before commenting?

    You're right. You don't have to ask my opinion. Unlike your comments though, that one, on my part, was figurative, tongue-in-cheek even.

    And maybe I wasn't wrong for taking it that way. Maybe you were wrong for presenting it that way.

    When I make sweeping generalizations in my writing - even if unintentionally - I get called out on 'em. If you don't want to get called out, choose your words more carefully in the first place.

    You call it nitpicking. I call it reacting to yet another example of someone lumping us all together - which you did at first - without thinking first about how it would read.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 12:07 AM  

  • Would have been easier to bite your tongue while it was on your cheek. You took one phrase of a post and made it into a big issue, misconstruing it in the process. I didn't say "This is WHY the African American community" I said "This is WHY MANY PEOPLE THINK the African American community". I'm saying people do generalize, and while that's wrong, is seeing those news and those people and those leaders what helps spread the generalizations.

    Then I explained it twice answering your comments but I guess that wasn't enough. Then you got a couple cheap shots about my knowing less black people and not knowing how a newspaper works.

    Like you said "it's your blog" so this is my last word. I don't care if you call me out, I invite it. But if you are wrong I'm going to tell you why. To make another generalization: I'm Cuban, the most stubborn people in the planet.

    By Anonymous Alex, at 10:59 AM  

  • Alex, I don't care what you are or where you're from, 'cause you know what? Your ethnicity doesn't determine your character. People who think you're a good man probably think so 'cause of how you behave, not 'cause of what you look like or where you're from. Same goes for people who don't like you.

    I don't know you, so I can't address your character. But since all I do know about you is that you're Cuban I'm certainly not gonna try to judge you on that.

    So whatever point you're tryiing to make on being Cuban and stubborn, congratulations. I'm not Cuban, but I'm stubborn too.


    By Blogger James Burnett, at 3:37 PM  

  • I didn't read about that incident.

    In the end we all make our own choices.

    That being said, hoever, our choices can be infuenced by just having someone speak life into us. Not disciplining children is tantamount to speaking death into them.

    Everynow and then I remember to say positive stuff. Coming from your Christmas post about clerks with, I can't wait to go shopping tomorrow and see if I can change one of them... instead of buying into it myself.

    Hey, you didn't know your post was a pocket sermon.

    By Blogger Pamela, at 2:00 AM  

  • These shootings point to a larger disconnect between the police of society in general. Police departments nationwide have it in their heads that a policeman's life and safety outweighs EVERYTHING. I don't know how we got here, but we need to pull back these chicken dogs. Officers get routinely exonerated for discharging massive amounts of firearms in public in response to confrontations that they can walk away from without serious injury. If I have to walk away without being a felon, then they should too. There's no reason for shooting at a car coming at you when you can jump out of the way. There's no reason to take dealy aim if you can wing someone. And if you can't accurately shoot your publicly assigned weapon, then you should't get one.

    Cops have 2 problems. Fist most are so arrogant that they think only they should decide who is good or bad and therefore "deserving" of rights and life. Second, they act so scared of every damn body that they think that every less than friendly incident is cause for firepower. I won't even get into the repressed racism that leads most white cops to be afraid of Black people for noo good reason whatsoever. They base their knowledge on anecdotes and locker room stories instead of truth. They then transfer that largely irrational fear to all other racial groups within the police by making them feel as if they're part of the team when they adopt prejudices against "perps" and "suspects". People accused of or caught doing crime instantly become less than humans who can be dispatched as such.

    I'm not saying there are not bad people and career criminals out there. I'm not saying that there are not people out there who are violent towards law enforcement officers. What I'm saying is that for a long time (forever for Black people) the response by police to any threat, real or perceived, is to instantly unload all firepower.

    Is every cop now such a pussy? Whatever happened to billyclubs and restraint holds? It's not like people never got killed doing that, but at least it was pretty evident when cops got out of line. As it stands now, dead men tell no tales they can make up any story they wish and we're not supposed to question it ever.

    This is not a Black problem or a White problem people--IT IS AN AMERICAN PROBLEM. If a segment of American youth are so alienated that they cannot participate in mainstream culture in any way except as a criminal defendant, then it is a problem for ALL OF US TO SOLVE.

    For Black people, our screams are loudest because we're getting killed by the cops. If it was white kids in Tokyo driftmobiles getting shot, you everyone white would be up in arms. However, at that moment, you would not hear Black people go "it's a white problem, no ours" We wouold be right there agreeing with you. Unfortunaely, Black people have always had to sound the beacon call for this country to live up to the promises we make to each other in our constitutions, law, rules, and enforcement. That beacon call has been heard around the world--its called universal human rights. Its something that every American should be extremely proud of and something that no American should ever tolerate on her own soil.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 9:16 PM  

  • BD, you should run for office. I probably wouldn't vote for you. But you argue your points strongly.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 9:43 PM  

  • Why did Sylvia's, a famous soul food restaurant in Harlem, sponsor a "welcome home" parade for Mike Tyson after he was released from prison (for raping an young black woman)?

    That has to do with (another generalization ahead, warning) the black community's desire to "make it" so badly that they celebrate anyone who does, no matter how sick they are. That's a whole different issue.

    By Blogger Dre, at 8:14 PM  

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