2001-02-24 / Columnists

Opoh Says

Opoh Says

By Emanuel Jalonschi

It’s been a warm couple of days but the weatherman says we’re headed for trouble. It’s been a nice warm 50 degrees but it seems that it’s about to drop like 20 degrees.

I can feel the harsh frigidness in my bones.

February 21, 2001. I’m on the Broad Channel platform waiting for my shuttle. In my fragile little mind, I’m trying to figure out what possessed me to pick such a bad choice of layering. So I stand on the platform in what seem like 20-25 mile per hour winds and stare down at my baggy jeans being blown around like the denim flag of my lost generation.

The sedate state of mind that has possessed me as of late is due to a variety of factors. The latest factor is the death of Christ The King High School football player Thomas Johnson.

A high school senior and a resident of our community, he was flat out "gunned down." On Wednesday, January 10, exactly seven weeks ago today, the world was removed of one of its better inhabitants. The planet lost a good soul and a mother lost a good son.

"At a Saturday morning press conference at the 101 Precinct, Deputy Chief Detective Joseph Reznic called Johnson’s murder ‘senseless’."

That is what the Wave’s January 20 article on Thomas’ murder read.

Well, everybody’s there now, aren’t they? The police are there to condemn the crime. The neighborhood is there to pity and sympathize for the family. The politicians are there to console the parents and the community.

All that is good except for what caused it. It took a Murder 2 to get us "together." You probably noticed the quotation marks. They’re there for a reason. Together? Ha! That’s a load.

The police have condemned the crime and apprehended the perp. Great. Now bring Thomas Johnson back. You can’t, can you? It’s too late. The issue previous to this one featured a front page article about the police preventing a major incident by capturing two ammo’d-up perps. So they do prevent some crimes. They couldn’t prevent this one. Maybe there’s nothing anyone could’ve done to prevent this tragedy.

Then there’s our neighborhood. My guess is that, at the very bare minimum, at least 25 thousand people read our paper in a week. The article on Thomas Johnson’s death was right on the front page so I assume that a major part of the people who picked up the paper, at least saw the article. I’m also going to assume that practically all who saw the article felt at least a bit of sympathy for the family. Ok, great. Does it stop there? Does it end at the point where something else catches our attention? Is that it?

I’ll tell you what would really make Thomas’ death completely "senseless": not learning anything from this tragedy.

I read the article and felt a mixture of sadness, horror and disgust. What did I do about it? Outside of write this nearly completely ignored column, nothing. All the parents that read the article, what did they do? Did they explain to their children what makes this such a horrible act? Did they try to teach them how to defuse a tense situation? Did they show them the path to both community and familial benefit? What did they do?

Yesterday, I was standing on this self-same platform waiting for the A train. There was a group of four pre-teens (the oldest being at most eleven) standing less than 20 feet away from me. One of them, a boy of no more than 10, was calling the girl in the group "a bitch" and "a slut." Then he went into a less-than-poetical tirade that involved far too many "oral" insults for me to repeat in this family paper. Two minutes later, as the shuttle pulled away from the platform, one of the other kids from the group made a pistol from his thumb, index and middle fingers, pointed it at the receding train and shouted: "blam! blam, blam, blam! blam!" Another minute later, all three boys in the group got into an extremely physical brawl that included fists in the face and ended with the threat of "I’ma bus’ a cap in yo ass, niggah!"

Where the hell are the parents?! Did you read the article?! Please, for all our sakes, realize that there’s a reason things happen. Yes, there is an element of evil in things human. Still, there’s such a high percentage of that evil that can be prevented with just a little serious and honest attention. Specifically, in this case, I mean parenting. Not just parenting at home, but communal parenting of all our children. We, as a community, need to redeem our own children and community.

If you parent a child, he will learn your values. Are your values conducive and encouraging of murder? Chances are, no. Then why are our children OK with it? Obviously, a major lack of parenting.

If you put your child in front of a television instead of parenting him, isn’t it obvious who the child will choose as a surrogate parent? If he sees Tony Soprano popping a guy and then dumping the body off a dock, what are the moral queues that your child has received? If your child observes the cartoonish violence of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, how will perceive the outcome of physical brutality? If he turns to MTV and sees a rapper talking about killing rivals while demeaning and abusing women, or, of he sees some rocker singing about drug abuse and suicide, what are the precedents that the child has had set before him?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying ban the stuff. I’m saying quite the opposite. I’d probably give up my left arm for the First Amendment. Banning things from TV or the radio is not nearly the issue. Parenting is the issue.

For example, I own the Eminem CD. That is one of the most mindlessly brutal and vicious CD’s I’ve ever owned. But I’m able to recognize that. Why? Because I’m an adult. Children don’t understand unless somebody explains it to them. Who’s responsible for explaining things to them? Their parents, of course.

And don’t go trying to blame this on the media either. Yeah there has been an increasing amount of brutality publicized through every media source. That’s not because we created the brutality. We’re just reporting it. That’s why we’re called reporters.

Parenting and community involvement is the issue.

Then there’s the politicians. Oh god, those politicians. They’re always there when we need them most (sarcasm! sarcasm! sarcasm!).

"Quick! Pity them! There’s a camera!"

They can save their pity as far as I’m concerned. Let me see them act when there’s no media coverage involved. Let me see them act before something like this butchery takes place. Don’t give me pity. Give me an education. Give me a police force that patrols instead of reacts. Give me a police force that doesn’t intimidate youths from going to them with their problems. Give me a police force that is willing to do something about the local dealers. Give me an urban redevelopment program. Give our teachers a goddamn contract. Give me something more than run-around and pathetic lip-service!

We all know that’s not going to happen though. Politicians won’t do anything for us unless we hold them responsible (with their jobs) for the actions they take. Since what their actions are seems to be a general mystery in our community, something else needs to take place. Something real. Something that is above campaign slogans and easy answers.

Today, not only is it seven weeks since Thomas Johnson was taken from this world, it’s also exactly 36 years since the great Malcolm X was assassinated. If there was just one message that Malcolm gave us it’s that the poor, the impoverished and the power-minority cannot rely on the favor of elites and the power majority. To be passive in the face of obvious brutality is not only blatantly complacent but also morally irresponsible. If we want our neighborhoods to be better, we’ve got to make them better ourselves. We are the only ones who can fully comprehend the depth of moral, psychological and socio-economic quicksand that we’re in. There’s no amount of Giulianis or Molinaris or Shulmans that can ever fix up the damage our communities have taken.

We owe it to the memory of both Malcolm X as a leader and Thomas Johnson as youth to start making a progressive change the instant we put down this newspaper. We need to become moral and social examples to our youths. We need to pull out the weeds of racism, ignorance and blind rage before they mature into a suffocating rain-forest of moral putridness.

Zack de la Rocha once chanted to us: "It has to start someplace. It has to start sometime. What better place than here? What better time than now?!"

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