WASHINGTON (NNPA) - For soft-spoken honors student Derrion Albert, death came at the hands and feet of a savage mob of his peers.
Albert, 16, of Chicago, was brutally beaten as he walked home from school Sept. 26. The culprits, four angry Black boys between the ages of 16 and 19, were videotaped bludgeoning Albert with a railroad tie plank and pummeling him in an unprovoked fit of rage.
The church-going teen's death has brought to light the ongoing war Black youth wage against one another. Even President Obama, whose former Chicago residence is less than an hour away from the site of Albert's death, has called the grainy, two-minute cell phone video "chilling."
Obama will deploy Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the former head of Chicago schools, to the Windy City next week to "talk about the issues of school violence and youth violence," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Oct.1.
While youth violence has decreased nationally since 2004, Black children represent an overwhelming majority of crime victims and crime perpetrators. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics released in 2008, the homicide rate among Black males ages 10 to 24 is more than double that of Hispanic and White males in the same age group, even though African-Americans are a minority population in the U.S.
The CDC also found that nearly 36 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 had been in physical fights in 2007, while 16.3 percent of male students surveyed said they had fought on school property. But statistics do little to explain why so many Black children are robbing each other of the opportunity to become adults. Some believe the breakdown of the Black family has created a generation of children lacking support at home and positive images of Black men. Others point to social Web sites like Facebook and YouTube as the new hangout for schoolyard bullies and promoters of teen-on-teen violence.
But Nemi Iya Ogunronke, executive director of the Baltimore-based OYO Traditions Cultural Arts Institute, believes many violent Black children lack outlets to positively express their anger, and instead resort to guns and gangs as a refuge.
OYO Traditions promotes the arts as an escape from the stress of inner-city living. On Oct. 10 the institute will host "Remember Me," a community-wide program exploring a recent rash of premature deaths in Baltimore's Druid Hill neighborhood.
According to Ogunronke, many Black teens have become trapped in a culture of violence and have few resources to improve their lot.
"For youth actively engaged in violence, there may be a level of acceptance, since they have incorporated violence as part of their lifestyle," Ogunronke said. "For youth that are not engaged, it is more that they don't know what to do about it, which is different than accepting the violence."
Homicide was the leading cause of death among Baltimore residents ages 15 to 34, according to the Baltimore City Health Department's 2008 Status Report.
OYO Traditions attempts to soothe the anger Black teems experience through programs like "The Enlightened Warrior," a conference providing positive examples of Black manhood, and "Drums Not Guns," which introduced young adults to African drumming.
Maryland officials are also aware of the perils faced by inner-city youth. Tammy Brown, chief of staff for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, said state officials and her department assist children who are victims of crimes, and prevent them from becoming offenders themselves.
"Public safety is one of the top priorities of Governor Martin O'Malley's administration," Brown said. "Reducing the number of juvenile homicides and non-fatal shootings of youth under [our department's] supervision is one of the goals that Secretary Donald DeVore has established for the department."
The state department has created the Violence Prevention Initiative, which provides increased monitoring and services to youth who are most at risk of committing or being victims of violent crimes. The program currently serves approximately 400 youth with various levels of monitoring including GPS tracking and house arrest.
While certain cities understand first-hand the danger many Black youths face in their own communities, the nation remains largely unaware of homicides and brutality among Black teens, said Angela Conyers Johnese, the director of juvenile justice for the Baltimore-based Advocates for Children and Youth.
Social Web sites like YouTube, where the video of Albert's murder surfaced soon after his death, and Facebook have served as vehicles for the broadcast of schoolyard bullying and vicious altercations. But Conyers Johnese believes these sites are actually helping the situation.
"Cities like Chicago, Baltimore, New Orleans, these cities have been dealing with violent crimes among young people for years," she said. "Now we have YouTube, Facebook and MySpace and young people with their cell phone cameras and camcorders, and they're able to record instantly what is happening in places where the world can see it. So, its not that it's making [violence] happen, but it's making it more visible. It's the attention that puts the people in action mode. They feel more impacted. It draws more people to want to do something and eliminate the problem."
But that visibility can be a double-edged sword. Last week, video surfaced on Facebook of two Black girls beating their classmate, a fellow African-American and the cheerleading squad captain, during a football game at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, Md. With their fists raised in fury and chants of approval erupting from the crowd, the scene looked more like a pro-boxing match than high school sporting event.
According to a Washington Post report, Facebook users who watched the video wrote "LOL"—an abbreviation for "laughing out loud"—and "hahaha" comments about the posting, which has made the victimized teen afraid to return to school, according to her mother, Cardelia Maupin.
"People always think you did something wrong, even when you are the victim," she told the Post.
But Maupin's daughter may among the lucky. She has a mother actively involved in her schooling and social well-being while, nationwide, the Black family seems to be imploding. Grandmothers are often forced to care for the offspring of their drug-addicted children and a sputtering economy has caused parents to spend longer hours on the job.
Even more troubling are the numbers of Black men and women committing to marriage. According to the 2008 Census Bureau Current Population Report, only 43 percent of Black women were married, compared to 79 percent of Asian women and 69 percent of White women. In the media, African American fathers have been notoriously depicted as non-existent or transient parts of their children's lives.
Both Conyers Johnese and Ogunronke point to firm parenting as the primary tool to prevent violence in young Black America.
"First and foremost, our children [and] youth need love, support and caring, as simple as that. If this is not in the household it indicates that these parents need assistance and help themselves," Ogunronke said. "For parents that are struggling to do the right thing in raising their children, they should seek out resources within and outside of their community. They must also be willing to invest time within their hectic schedule to work with their children and those resources that are available and providing such services."
Conyers Johnese said parents must also make their children's interests a priority in their own busy lives.
Conyers Johnese concludes, "It all comes down to spending time with your children and being in tune with what they're doing, [knowing] who they're hanging out with and what is actually influencing them and giving them positive influences."