Commentary: The Need to See Black Men as Americans With Promise

Three horrific shootings of young Black men in the last year paint a chilling portrait of race relations.

Posted: 12/04/2012 04:32 PM EST
Jordan Davis and Michael David Dunn

A 17-year-old African-American student is shot to death in Florida because the loud music coming from the car in which he rode offended an older white man. A 21-year-old Black man in Arkansas is fatally wounded after being shot by his boss during lunch.

Anyone who thought that the national spotlight on the Trayvon Martin tragedy would lead to soul searching and increased respect for the lives of young Black men can’t help but to be disheartened by the events in the aftermath of the Martin shooting.

In less than a year since Martin was shot in a gated community near Orlando, the succeeding incidents have made a curious statement about where the nation now stands in race relations. The United States has just witnessed the historic, resounding re-election of the country’s first African-American president, with strong support from areas of the country with few Black voters. On the other hand, the country is reeling from some of the most heinous and horrific assaults on young Black men.

Yet, in the age of Obama, there is a countervailing ethic in the United States that seems to cheapen the lives of young Black men, relegating them to insignificance.

Consider the most recent shooting. Michael David Dunn, a 45-year-old man parked at a Florida gas station, was so outraged by the loud music coming from an automobile with four Black youths inside, he decided to take matters to a deadly level. He shot Jordan Davis, who was a passenger in the car along with three other young men.

Dunn exchanged words with Davis, who was in the back seat, and started firing, later telling police he felt threatened.

In Arkansas, Ernest Hoskins was having lunch at the home of his boss, Chris Reynolds. At some point in the lunch, which was attended by several others, Reynolds produced a .44-magnum pistol and shot Hoskins in the jaw, killing him within weeks of his public wedding ceremony.

“For whatever reason, he pointed the gun at the only African-American guy at the table,” said Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Hoskins’ wife and mother.

In the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of an overzealous neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida, there were marches, town hall meetings and international news coverage. But even that has been insufficient.

There is clearly a need for a continued and intense national dialogue on the challenges faced by young Black men. In a society that has clearly not stopped looking at Black youth as threatening, deadly criminals, there is a yearning for a national discussion that will lead young Black men to be viewed as Americans with promise and talent. We seem to be a long way from that place.

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(Photos from left: Jordan Russell Davis/Facebook, AP Photo/Jacksonville Sheriff's Office)

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