By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
The time comes when silence [inaction]is betrayal. That time has come for us today…
– Martin Luther King Jr.
There have been seven homicides in Toledo since April 23, including the death of seven-month-old Desire Hughes. Hughes was shot while riding in the backseat of her father’s car when another driver unloaded gunfire on his car at a traffic light last week.
One cannot even begin to understand the tragic death of babies caught in the crossfire of adults’ dysfunction without focusing on the cold-blooded indifference of the “man or woman in the mirror.”
For starters, a street mindset where violent retaliatory payback is the norm has created a toxic culture causing us to feel like strangers in our own community.
Think about it.
Where can Black people go and be safe in Toledo? Can we sit in our cars? Can we shop at the mall? Can we drive through our own neighborhoods? Can we party or socialize with friends? Can we relax at the park? Is there ANY place where Black people today can be safe in Toledo and not worry about getting caught up in somebody else’s ish?
As Cicely Tyson’s character Aunt Myrtle asked in Madea’s Family Reunion (2006), “What happened to us? Who are you? Do you know who you are? What happened to the pride, dignity, and love and respect that we had for one another? Where did it go? And how do we get it back?”
The sad part of Toledo’s pandemic of catastrophic violence is that our community leaders are silent. We are failures because we have failed to protect our community and children. We have failed to speak out, but more importantly, we have failed to act short-term or long-term.
I know that Toledo police exhibit an adversarial relationship with residents in order to exert their control over the Black community. I know that our public officials lack legitimacy and are often unworthy of our respect because of their almost nonexistent police-citizen interaction.
The truth is that police are trained to look out for themselves and generally protect each other and their brand before responding to the needs of Black people. So, I understand the perceived need to seek justice from the streets rather than from the courts.
So yes, but rather than killing each other and our children, we first need to speak up and demand that our local government leadership direct adequate resources to the structural barriers perpetuating poverty. In addition, we must also insist that government address perceived bias and ineffectiveness in police and the criminal justice system to eliminate the desire for street or vigilante justice.
Yet, and perhaps more importantly, we as leaders and parents must take concrete steps to change the street culture’s narrative – which often breeds a culture of low expectation. According to researchers, low expectations, in turn, deemphasizes the acquisition of knowledge, learning, and high reading and writing skills.
Suppose one cannot read, write, or do math far above high-school level. In that case, one is likely to be funneled into the criminal justice system early, socially and economically marginalized, purposeless, and swallowed up by the streets. The streets are often populated by those starved with unmet needs such as acceptance and status, left prone to meet those needs with counterfeit substitutes such as gang membership.
What can we do?
With Mothers’ Day looming, parents can take practical but effective steps to change things.
We can take a stand by forcing our children to read. A large percentage of the young people coming into the criminal justice system are those who didn’t read. Making sure that children read early pays dividends later. Make it a priority to find a high-quality afterschool program that provides a masterly literacy component, especially if they are struggling or disengaged during regular school time.
Also, make young people do some work. Assign age-appropriate tasks to children to build life skills and instill a culture of hard work. Too much privilege and thinking that the world owes them something is a recipe for trouble down the road.
In addition, recent research studies demonstrate the many benefits of regular family mealtime. Regardless of kinship structure, the crew should eat together as a family. Benefits include a lower risk of depression, decreased drug use, and an increased sense of belonging.
Finally, constant exposure to a narrative rooted in vengeance and violence, respect and retaliation, “submission and slaughter, or domination and damnation” will likely damage our young people’s emotional and psychological health.
Demand accessibility to quality mental healthcare and therapy. But also, it is critical to seek out an independent Black institution that provides Afrocentric rites of passage and emphasizes other cultural knowledge.
For certain, honest, forthright and genuine solutions will not come from elected or appointed officials but from informed parents and community leaders who care deeply about the community’s future.
So, Black community, Stand up and Take Your Place!
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at email@example.com