Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Gangsta rap and the killing of black teenagers in Oakland

Chip Johnson:

The carnage on the streets of Oakland these days just doesn't make any sense as the body count of youths -- particularly black teenagers -- mounts.

Just a few days ago, controversial civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton, in a keynote address at the annual National Association of Black Journalists conference in Indianapolis, warned of the dangers of doing nothing about the glorification of the gangster lifestyle.

"We have got to get out of this gangster mentality, acting as if gangsterism and blackness are synonymous," Sharpton said.

"I think we have allowed a whole generation of young people to feel that if they're focused, they're not black enough. If they speak well and act well, they're acting white, and there's nothing more racist than that."

I'm not a big Sharpton supporter, given some of his more extreme viewpoints, but I agree with him on this one. Heck, 10 years ago, the Rev. Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem said the same thing about the alarming trends in violent gangster rap music, but he was dismissed as a religious conservative.

There isn't a city in the continental United States where teenagers have embraced the message of the gangster musician with more zeal than in Oakland, which has produced some of the most notable artists who make up the genre today.

Unfortunately, the lifestyle glorified in the music videos is a dicey proposition in urban America, because some of our young people aren't just playing it -- they're living it.

Consider Oakland's most recent homicide, its 89th of the year: the drive-by shooting death of Andrew Porter, a 16-year-old junior at Oakland High School. He was killed in a hail of bullets late Saturday night while walking with a large group of people to a party on 81st Avenue.

While Andrew's mother said her son, a starter on his high school football team, was a good kid who was not involved in crime, a different -- and threatening -- picture of his purported circle of friends emerged on a Web site.

The posting on myspace.com honors his death -- and vows revenge.

The site, which appears to be devoted to an Oakland street gang, includes this: "{lcub}RIP{rcub} Andrew ~ Mob Squad ~ We go get who did it bra." The site includes links to chat rooms, message boards and other Internet locations.

Andrew Porter is the 27th of Oakland's 89 homicide victims this year who have died short of their 20th birthday. That's nearly 1 out of 3.

Some of the photographs on the Web site show teens throwing up a three-finger gang sign, while other brandish handguns. One rolling image, headlined "Foothill Fruitville," shows a man holding two automatic pistols, one in each hand.

Another part of the site is set aside for slain members of the group, and includes the faces and names of at least two other African American teens from Oakland who have been gunned down in the last two years.

Davelle Tatum was just 16 when gunmen -- waiting for him to arrive home -- opened fire in June 2005, killing him. A separate memorial was posted to note the death of Willie Clay, 19, who died when someone fired on a group of people near the corner of 22nd Avenue and East 28th Street, for years a known drug hotspot.

Three days after Clay's death, Purnell Brewer, a well-known and feared street drug dealer, was gunned down on 26th Street nearby.

The MySpace site is ostensibly dedicated to the members of a gang whose turf, "Murder Dubbs, East Oakland" is known to authorities as the area around 22nd Avenue between East 21st and 29th streets where nearly a dozen people have been killed so far this year.

What's particularly troubling, beyond the remarkably short lives of these young men, is that these teenagers and young adults operate the site so publicly, and have posted links to advertisements selling "Bling-bling" hip-hop jewelry and clothing -- all the accoutrements that a budding young street thug will need.

Young black men, many of them without guidance or role models in their lives, are slipping from society's grasp faster than we can catch them. But it's particularly galling to see corporate America cashing in on the carnage.

I mean the record and fashion industries, and all the other companies promoting gangster-like behavior through the distribution of their products. It only makes matters worse.



At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article is a masterpiece of political correctness -- the word black does not appear in it. Only via the fotos do you learn the whole truth.

At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, learn how to read, foo.

At 2:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I for one am not shedding any tears over the death of a "well known and feared street drug dealer". Good riddance. It's not politic to say that as long as kids who live like this confine themselves to blowing each other away, not a lot is going to get done about it, but that's the way it is. Regarding the My Space profiles, law enforcement probably uses the site to identify and track perps.

At 3:10 AM, Anonymous alex said...

rest in peace andrew porter man i will remember you man!


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