Many weeks ago, I wrote a story about a viral video that depicted a male teen being whipped with a belt by his uncle. The teen was being punished publicly after the uncle discovered he’d been posing as a gangster on Facebook. We “don’t come from that sh-” the uncle scolded while wielding his belt.
Some decried the uncle’s actions, others said that was just what the young man needed. I remember thinking how lucky that child was to have an older male figure who cared when so many young Black men don’t.
On Dec. 7, that kid, Michael Taylor, 16, was killed in his New Orleans neighborhood. Taylor’s mother, Kimberly Ward, told the Times-Picayune newspaper, “I came home and saw my son on the ground.” Police have no suspects and no known motive.
Typically, I’m not at a loss for words on any subject. But on this one…? I can’t help but think about how violence and death is such a part of the lives of so many Blacks in America, regardless of their socio-economic status.
I grew up in D.C. in the ’90s, back when it was known as the “Murder Capital.” Each morning on my ride to elementary school, the radio gave news briefs of all the killings the night before, mostly young Black men 16 to 22 gunned down over the drug trade, or Jordans, or Eddie Bauer coats. I never flinched at the stories. At 9, murder was so common it was just another part of life.
At 16, I attended my first party at a go-go hall. Violence was so prevalent that the band had incorporated a saying, “one fight, good night” into its musical line up. The night I went, three men were shot and killed outside the club. It technically wasn’t a fight, so the party kept going. That technicality is why it was my first and last venture to that venue.
A month ago, I was at a club in Manhattan where six shots rang out. I’m a girl from the suburbs, who grew up around young men wearing mall-made shirts with R.I.P. and a picture of their departed friend or family member. I sang along to slow jams where men wailed for homies now in that “gangster lean.” I attended too many of the “right” events — college homecomings and festivals, and supposed family-friendly occasions like West Indian Day parades and Georgia Avenue Days — where things went terribly wrong. I knew the sight of a crowd swarming then scattering, the sound of a gun blasting, and the agony of mourning families all too well to miss the cue.
That night at Juliet, two bodies fell. One dead, another man shot three times laying calmly on the floor like he knew the procedure.
Violence has become such an intricate part of African-American lives, one that there seems no escaping no matter where you go, no matter who you are, no matter how well you raise your daughters or sons.
R.I.P. Michael Taylor. Your family, your Mom, your uncle, are in my prayers.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk