The Hutchinson Report
When babies kill babies
The murder of Jasmine Sanders
The murder of 8 year old Jasmine Sanders in South Los Angeles did something that many other killings in South Los Angeles didnâ€™t do. It ignited a brief moment of shock and rage among the residents of the neighborhood where Jasmine was killed. It prompted a statement of sympathy and regret from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other elected officials. It brought a stern comitment from LAPD officials to make the case priority one in apprehending the shooters.
The Sanders murder did something else unusual. It cast an ugly, infuriating glare on one of the worst kept secrets in Americaâ€™s virtually world leading urban homicide problem. That is that a significant percent of those who kill are under 18, and in far too many cases, much younger. The suspect in the Sanders shooting is thirteen years-old.
According to Bureau of Justice figures in 2004 the homicide rate for black male teens was 16 times higher than the rate for non-Hispanic white males. Though homicide rates among teens, including black teens, have dropped in recent years, the wide disparity in black teen homicide rates versus white teen killings is still Grand Canyon size wide.
There was some hope for a while that the plunge in violent crime in big cities such as Los Angeles would send the disproportionate murder rate among young black males spiraling down too. However, thatâ€™s proven to be little more than prayerful thinking. And the worst part is that thereâ€™s not much sign things will change. In the more than a quarter century the Bureau of Justice Statistics has compiled homicide records black teens consistently have been far more likely to be murdered than white teens.
In almost all cases their killer will be another teen. They kill over gang and drug disputes, turf battles, and to settle personal grudges and scores. Broken homes, miserably failing inner city schools, and a chronic unemployment rate among young blacks -- which is double and triple that of white males in urban areas -- haven't helped matters. There are even deeper seated reasons for the violence and thatâ€™s the combustible blend of cultural and racial baggage many blacks carry. In the past, crimes committed by blacks against other blacks were often ignored or lightly punished. The implicit message is that black lives are expendable.
Many studies have confirmed that the punishment blacks receive when their victim is white is far more severe than if the victim is black. This perceived devaluation of black lives by racism has provoked disrespect for the law, and has forced many blacks to internalize anger and misplace aggression onto other blacks -- especially those that are perceived as weak or defenseless, and black teens and those even younger such as Sanders are perceived as the most defenseless of all.
Far too many young black males have become especially adept at acting out their frustrations at white society's denial of their "manhood" by adopting an exaggerated "tough guy" role. They swagger, boast, curse, fight and commit violent, self-destructive acts.
But itâ€™s always the innocents who pay the severest price. Sanders, was innocent, young, very young, and as so many other young, very young innocents, got caught in the cross fire of the young shooters. The pain is even greater for Sanderâ€™s family because the suspect in the her shooting was her cousin.
More police, prosecutors, "three strikes" and mandatory sentencing laws, the death penalty, and one million blacks behind bars have done little to curb the disproportionate killing rate of black teens.
To his credit, President Bush recognized that big city violence was a crisis problem. In his State of the Union Address in 2005 he pledged to shell out $150 million to youth education and violence prevention programs. It was well intentioned, but it was still a far cry from what was needed to stem the gunplay on urban streets. And as has been the case with other Bush initiatives, unveiled with much public fanfare, the attack on urban violence has fizzled out due to lack of money and lack of will to push it through. But even if the money and will were there, that would not get at the cause of why so many young blacks kill each other.
Thatâ€™s not much consolation to Shadonna Kinney, Jasminesâ€™ mother. The prominent newspaper picture of her rocking in a chair holding Jasmineâ€™s backpack in the throes of grief and pain told a story of profound hurt that words alone couldnâ€™t tellâ€”or show. When babies kill babies that picture of a mother and familyâ€™s grief and pain will always be on terrifying display.
- Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How the GOP Can Keep the White House, How the Democrats Can Take it Back (Middle Passage Press, August 2008).