By Marlon Rice
Justin Hackley was a kid from my neighborhood. I’ve known his mother Marie since I was a teenager, grew up right across the street from her family. He was 20 years old, a young man home on summer break from college, preparing for his senior year at Delaware State University. On a summer night in Flatbush, Justin was gunned down, murdered because he was standing with a friend who was arguing with another man about a girl. Justin wasn’t a gangster or a street guy. He wasn’t a hustler or malicious or someone who had a criminal record. He was a good kid who found himself confronted by the evils of society and unfortunately his life was taken from us.
Chynna Battle worked as a hostess and server at Applebee’s on Fulton Street. She was a caring and considerate person, and those attributes made her great at her job. She gave birth to her daughter Amelia while still in high school, but she persevered and graduated. She had plans to enlist into the Navy. On a summer night in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Chynna was shot and killed while she was enjoying the night in the courtyard of the Stuyvesant Gardens housing complex on Gates Avenue. She was 21 years old. She was not the intended target of the shooting, but that matters not. Another woman also died that night in that courtyard. Shaqwanda Staley was 29. Her nickname was “Q” and she was also a devoted mother. Q wasn’t the intended target either, but again, that doesn’t matter.
Growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, I can remember that as summers approached people would make mention of the increase in violence, inferring that somehow the summer heat played a role in the uptick of murders. It’s urban legend; when the summer heat envelops the hood, tempers flare, tolerance dissipates and people die. I can remember reaching the beginning of the summer season and hearing about someone being killed and automatically attributing that death to the season. I can bring up a handful of friends that were killed during the summer, friends like Curtis from 1304 Pacific Street. We called him “Smirk”. He was an older kid on my block with a bright smile who was murdered in the late 80’s. Or Dominique Sylvester, who was a friend and high school classmate of mine, another genuinely good person with an amazing spirit who was murdered right before our Senior Prom. Or Damon Allen, who I went to elementary school with. He was killed on Labor Day Weekend 11 years ago, actually shielding others from the danger of gunfire. Every one of them were good people, and every one of them taken from us during the summer.
But it isn’t the summer that’s killing us.
This week, yet another name was added to the list of good people gunned down. Zanu Simpson was a master barber. He cut the hair of celebrities like Future and Mobb Deep, and he cut the hair of the children in his community in Queens. Though I didn’t know him personally, a few of my friends were friends of his and only speak in the highest regard about his character. He and his brother were owners of Strictly Skillz barbershop in Hollis, Queens. Late Monday night, after leaving a restaurant, Zanu was murdered while sitting in his SUV. Another summer night, another good person murdered.
Our communities are in a depressed state. For all of the strength and the beauty found in our neighborhoods, there is still this air of chaos and confusion, you can see it especially in the eyes of our youth. Hip-Hop normalizes gangsterism. The media normalizes Black criminality. And the impressionable minds of our young become corrupted with images and ideas that only serve to detach them from the stark realities of living a life where violence and disrespect for yourselves and for others is acceptable behavior. Killing a person in real life becomes as easy as killing a person on the Grand Theft Auto video game. There is no divine value for the lives of others because there is no divine value for their own lives. At every turn, young people of color are marginalized and reminded that they are less than. Trayvon Martin’s killer is free. Michael Brown’s killer is free. Tamir Rice’s killer is free, so when they see a friend die and that friend’s killer isn’t caught and convicted of the murder, it makes perfect sense. If the killers of young Black boys and girls never get punished, does that mean that young Black boys and girls are okay to kill?
Society isn’t going to inspire and reinforce peace and positivity in our children. The media won’t do it. Movies won’t do it. Hip-Hop won’t do it. Video games will not do it. This practice can only start and be maintained from one place–the home. As parents, your sole responsibility is to be an able and willing steward to your child, guiding them through life, reinforcing a positive and loving foundation for their lives, so that as they leave the home and go into our neighborhoods they do so with a loving and peaceful disposition. If you are a parent, then that is YOUR job. It is the most important job to have in our communities right now, in this time, at this moment.
We need to exhibit love for one another. We need to be considerate and respectful of each other. We need to be able to disagree with each other without having to become violent or murderous to prove a point. Quite simply, we need to love one another. This way of thinking doesn’t come out of watching “Love and Hip-Hop”, or playing “Call of Duty”. You won’t get it from Hot 97 or from HBO. Love of community, love of nation, love of self starts in the home. It starts with a parent teaching a child right and wrong. It continues when that parent continues to maintain a greater influence over that child than any video game or rap song could. And it plays out when that child is a young adult and chooses to do the right things because they remember the teachings of their parents. Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. That verse is from the book of Proverbs in the Bible, but the truth behind it is universally recognized, regardless of faith or creed.
We need parents in our communities right now, and we cannot afford to take another summer off.