Young, Black men are dying in America. Has the nation even noticed or has it bought into the notion that their lives are less valuable than others'? Those are two of many candid and difficult questions asked by Mayor Michael Nutter (Philadelphia) and Mayor Mitch Landrieu (New Orleans) during a joint appearance at the National Press Club to discuss urban violence.
In 2012, 193 people were murdered in New Orleans and 331 in Philadelphia. In many cases, Nutter and Landrieu noted, young African-American males were the victims and the perpetrators.
"Each violent act tears at our nation's soul. Each murder leaves a wide wake of destruction and a long line of victims: a child who loses a father, a mother whose heart is broken, a family left alone," Nutter said. "And in a downward spiral the violence begets violence."
The Philadelphia legislator says poverty and hopelessness are the root causes of growing violence in communities, citing poor schools, high unemployment and inadequate health care as some of the challenges they face.
"A cycle of poverty is chewing up another generation and spits out the results for all of us to see," he said.
As a result, the sense of community and collective responsibility once felt by families who've lived in their neighborhoods for generations is replaced by fear. Other people's problems and especially acts of violence, they say, is not their business or problem.
But according to Nutter, it is the responsibility of not only the local community but also the nation to stand up and take action.
"If we do not stand up now and say, 'Enough,' then when?" Nutter asked.
Fifty years ago, Landrieu said, the nation wept for the four girls killed in the bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church and galvanized behind civil and voting rights laws, Landrieu said. Yet the shooting deaths of so many children doesn't seem to spur action.
"Today, the same young faces, the same innocence lost, the same potential snuffed out — no so much as a whisper," he said, citing the children killed in Newtown, Connecticut, and in cities across the nation and the recent rampage at the Washington Navy Yard. "This cannot stand."
Stopping the shooting, he added, will require a coordinated effort that focuses not only on gun control, but also mental health, education and the relationship that people have to their communities. If they pull together, he said, using existing resources, they can make a measurable impact.
Nutter lamented Congress' "mean-spiritedness" and seeming unwillingness to help people living in poverty and lawmakers' desire to cut programs that actually help those who really need it. Their attitude, he suggested, is not the American way.
"I thought we looked after folks. We look after everybody around the world," he said, adding, "We cannot just take care of the rest of the world and not take care of ourselves. It is the epitome of ... the shoemaker whose kids have holes in their shoes. We're actually big enough and bad enough as a country that we can do both."
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(Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)