2007-07-27 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Errol Louis: A Voice In The Black Wilderness
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Errol Louis is besieged. He is a conservative black commentator who tells it like it is - not always a welcome commodity in the black community.

Last week, he wrote a column in The Daily News entitled, "Besieged Nabes Must Wage War On Street Violence."

If you have ever read this column, you will know right away that his theme has been mine and that the black community and its political and religious leaders have largely ignored both of us.

I'm relatively easy to ignore. Louis is not.

He writes, "As a grieving, grateful city celebrates the sacrifice of Police Officer Russel Timoshenko, who was suddenly, brutally murdered in the streets of Brooklyn last week, the cry goes out for the millionth time: Where are the leaders - the men and institutions - taking action to bring order to New York's violent neighborhoods?"

Sound familiar, James? Sound familiar, Ed? Sound familiar, Malcolm, Greg and Michele?

It should. The question has certainly been asked before and none of you has ever adequately answered it.

Smith and Meeks held hearings on police brutality. Where are the hearings on black-on-black murder? Where are the hearings about the criminal possession of deadly weapons in the black community? Where are the hearings on the drugs and guns that bedevil the good black people of the community?

Sanders held a community fair in which rappers, the very people who extol guns and violence, were the major features.

The elected politicians talk a good game, and so does Ed Williams, the president of the local chapter of the NAACP. They have never, however, really addressed the problem.

What is the problem? It's easily stated. It is the proliferation of drugs, guns and gangs in the black community, especially in Rockaway. Need I remind anybody that the three men accused of acting in concert in the murder of the young cop are all from Rockaway and all have been in trouble with the law before?

Louis might be writing about Brooklyn, but he is talking about Rockaway.

"The 23-year-old hero was also a casualty in a cultural war within the black community," Louis writes. "Increasingly, a shooting war - that pits stable, law-abiding families in innercity neighborhoods against a criminal class and its enablers. The war is not going well. In too many neighborhoods, the institutions charged with rearing the young - from the family and the church to the schools, courts and civic associations - are failing to get a critical mass of our kids educated, motivated and ready to lead productive lives."

Louis gets even more specific further on in his column.

"The so-called leaders in central Brooklyn and elsewhere must summon the energy, creativity and nerve to reverse this slide. We have the power, or can build the power, to do it," he writes. "But too many parents, preachers, politicians and professionals are standing on the sidelines, literally hiding in their homes and praying for a change while whole neighborhoods spiral downwards. That's a good way to lose the battle."

Rockaway has seen more than its share of guns and murders over the past year. The spate of shootings at the end of the year, all of them gang and drug-related, forced Jim Sanders and Ed Williams to pay lip service to the problem by holding a community march from one housing project to the other, from Redfern to Hammels, talking about gun violence.

There has never been a follow-up to the march, which got no coverage by the media outside the community, or from black leaders in other parts of the city.

Shortly before the march, thousands showed up to march in protest of the police shooting of Sean Bell. Al Sharpton was there. Dozens of black preachers were there. Jesse Jackson chimed in on the subject.

Where are they now, when a black thug and his friends ambushed and killed a young cop?

Where are they when one black youth kills another black youth?

Where are the black churches in Rockaway when black-on-black crime escalates? Where is their voice in calling for an end to the thuggery that seems to be permeating many young, black men?

That is what Louis is talking about.

The leaders of the black community seem to get angry only when a black person is accosted by a police officer, whether that police officer is white or black. They never seem to become angry over black-on-black crime or the numerous murders that often overtake Rockaway's public housing projects.

Just this week, the Reverend Charles Curtis and other members of the clergy joined black city council members on the steps of City Hall.

Were they there to protest black thuggery? Were they there to support the family of the cop who was shot and killed by thugs just days before?

No, they were there for the same old song - to protest what they call "escalating police misconduct," which they say is occurring most often in communities of color.

"As the moral leaders of our communities, religious leaders from various faiths feel compelled to take a moral position on escalating police misconduct," Curtis says in his press release. "Citizens of this city are complaining daily of mistreatment at the hands of some members of the New York City Police Department. Yet, Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly remain silent in the face of disconcerting accounts of police activities."

Curtis and others who purport to be the moral and political leaders of today's black community walk a tough tightrope. They have to maintain their respectability and their credability while maintining their own personal integrity.

Sometimes it seems that many of those leaders are more concerned with the interaction between their constituency and the police than they are with the interaction between the good people in the black community and the thugs who constantly threaten their lives. Certainly, railing against the police makes better headlines than railing against black on black crime. You can always bring out Al Sharpton and other "moral" leaders for a march against the police. Not so, however, for a march against a black man killing another black man. It's tough to be a moral leader, especially when you turn a blind eye to what is really causing the major problem to the people who live in your community.

That problem is not police brutality. The problem is drugs, gangs and guns, and until those "moral leaders" address those related problems, nothing will change.

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