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Problems go beyond race relations

April 12, 2008|By JONATHAN R. BURRS

April 4 marked the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Across the country, many paid homage to the life and sacrifice made by one of the greatest champions for peace this world has ever known.

While it is tragic that such a great American and civil rights icon would lose his life for standing up for basic human rights, it is quite disturbing that the spiritual and moral basis for Dr. King's cause has been lost by many African Americans, including leadership of organizations such as the NAACP.

Many African-American "leaders" speak of significant race relations improvements over the years, but maintain additional race relations progress is imperative. This I agree with.

What I disagree with are perspectives similar to those by James Tolbert, former NAACP West Virginia state president, as presented in The Herald-Mail article, "On 40th anniversary of King's death, Tri-State residents say race relations not ideal."

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Tolbert cites improved access to education and employment opportunities for blacks, but says gaps in academic achievement, health care and the disproportionate numbers of blacks in prison across the country are troubling. My question is: What do gaps in academic achievement as well as the disproportionate numbers of blacks in prison (mostly black men), have to do with race relations issues between black and white people?

Although Tolbert and other black leaders may be quick to mention the sentencing disparities between powder cocaine versus crack/rock cocaine drug offenses - a valid argument - the fact still remains that crimes are being committed. Punishment and incarceration are inevitable consequences for committing these crimes! Crack is more likely to be sold by black drug dealers while cocaine is more likely to be sold by white drug dealers.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) prison statistics do show undeniably that higher percentages of blacks are incarcerated, as opposed to whites and Hispanics.

But there has never been a conclusive relationship shown between these percentage differences and racism or race relations, except among black leaders who find comfort in blaming seemingly all problems facing black communities on racism.

In my opinion, these attitudes have a negative impact on race relations and furthermore detract attention from legitimate race-related problems.

The facts are these: The disproportionate number of blacks in prison, under achieving academically and consequently living in poverty are directly related to decaying moral standards, a declining sense of connection and loyalty to black heritage and culture, as well as rampant sexual promiscuity.

The BJS confirms that nearly half the people murdered in the United States each year are black and 93 percent of black homicide victims are killed by black perpetrators. While black people account for one-eighth of the U.S. population, they are six times more likely than white people to be victims of homicide and seven times more likely to commit murder.

Approximately 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock as compared to 45 percent of Hispanic children and 25 percent of white children.

Compounding this fact, the out-of-wedlock childbearing is interrelated with low levels of maternal education. Simply put, the young black female least capable of supporting a family is most likely to raise the children alone.

Additionally, nearly 60 percent of black children are raised in fatherless households. Studies show that children raised without married parents, and fundamentally balanced families, are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior.

Some symptoms of antisocial behavior are: Persistent lying or stealing, constant difficulty with the law, tendencies to violate the rights of others, substance abuse, aggressive often violent, behavior and difficulty with authority figures.

So given the irrefutable facts, I ask Tolbert and other NAACP leaders what exactly do they plan to do to reduce the one in nine black men in their 20s and early 30s who are incarcerated and those at risk of incarceration? Making this challenge more difficult is the indisputable fact of the generational gap that currently exists between black elders and Generation X and Y, largely due to black elders being completely out of touch with their own history and the generations that followed them!

Where are all the surrogate fathers? Many black leaders run for the cameras in attempts to gain political and social recognition, but what are they doing to address the issues endangering black communities the most? A good starting point would be to accept the facts.

Jonathan R. Burrs is a Hagerstown resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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