Published on Deadline Detroit: Cityscape
Taylor: ‘Who Murders an Unarmed Father in Front of His Young Sons?’
June 8th, 2015, 11:50 AM
The writer is a Michigan State University sociology professor from Detroit. This is adapted with permission from a 1,600-word Facebook post early Monday.
By Carl S. Taylor
Sunday traditionally was a sacred day when I was growing up in Detroit. Now a young father is murdered at a fast-food restaurant’s drive-through lane on a Sunday. His young sons were in the car.
This tragedy is another in a seemingly endless series of crimes I can’t categorize. I am puzzled, befuddled and in total confusion over how these acts of ill-behavior have transformed my native home. I search for words these days.
The west-side murder of 28-year-old Christopher Reed is truly repulsive. The young father cooperated with his killers’ demands, reportedly removing his expensive jewelry. It was not enough.
This is where our community must stand up about the transformation within the street tradition.
Carl S. Taylor: ” I listen to the music and conversations of the streets. I am concerned about the loss of culture, decency and respect for life.”
Alienation, resentment, rebellion are brought about in an atmosphere of perceived injustice within the past half-century. The brutalization that has become normalized for some is beyond troubling.
In Detroit, as is in other American communities, there lies an outlaw culture — outside of any law, even that of historical street culture. It’s not romantic, not self-respecting, not self-policing.
“What’s Going On” fits these times well. Did the iconic Marvin Gaye and his Motown co-writers visually see the future? In May 1971 they gave the world a social commentary reflecting the times.
Today, does the “Power” series by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson on the Starz network reflect these young men who seem to kill at will? Is this our new social commentary?
“Power” is entertainment, but many young people believe that is how you make it in America. I listen to the music and conversations of the streets. I am concerned about the loss of culture, decency and respect for life.
Who is this person who murders, has murdered over the past decades consistently? Where did this young man come from who rapes and kills as if it is a day in the life?
Yes, I know that many of our young men do not do this. Yet it does not nullify or lessen the impact of those who are doing this consistently. Our community folks, our elders, are being penalized by this ungodly behavior.
Society Can’t Absolve Itself
For the pundits and naysayers who want to frame this as black pathology: Return to your communities and figure out what’s behind the violence.
It does not represent many good citizens and their families living in Detroit. It does represent those who were never part of those traditional families, organized blocks, traditional schools.
This question is for our Detroit community to begin to answer: How do we meet this challenge?
Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as Kanan, a jailed drug dealer in the “Power” cable series. “Is this our new social commentary?” asks Professor Taylor.
This is not a crisis just for police, politicians, preachers, teachers and businesspeople. A lot of talented, experienced, good folks remain in the city, so I suggest paths for action later in this essay.
This is about much more than a bad boy, a challenged young person or a bad father. This is not just a crazed mother.
I understand poverty, but society can’t absolve itself from its role in this alienation, isolation, distressed socialization. The transgressors are from decades of social ills.
Who murders an unarmed father in front of his young sons?
Sunday historically meant a great deal for many in earlier era in Detroit. The holy day extended itself to other days for faith-based residents of working-class neighborhoods.
Frustrated, Hopeless and Violent
These are different days from the life I knew in Detroit in 1965, no doubt.
Our reality in urban America has transformed not only institutions, it has made some frustrated people hopeless and violent. They are disconnected from the traditional institutions that existed in earlier times. Many families in certain segments are trying to live with little hope.
More people, young and old, are living in underground and underworld networks to survive. That is different from living. Ruthless streets becomes their family, church, business and distorted value system.
None of this excuses the disturbing behavior of some people, of course.
I have been monitoring these social phenomena for decades. I have personally and professionally watched this culture arise to this point of normalizing ignorance and violence. As I consider what life in my old neighborhood is like in 2015, I wonder:
- Would I carry a gun while walking on my former blocks as a teen?
- Would I have a job?
- Would the men go fishing on the weekends, as I recall factories workers doing?
- Did I know young men like the ones I have studied over the past decades?
- What has changed so much that it has dissolved block clubs and erased communities?
· Taylor: “The mindset is unlike street culture in the past. Prisons mean little to people accustomed to harsh daily existence.”
· We have evidence dating back over decades that fewer children attend religious services. I have seen hundreds of children – school-age children, youths, teens – on the streets when they should be in school. Their parents often are fully aware of their absence.
· Today we see more children than I have ever seen out of any school. Why?
· The decline of Detroit Public Schools has left few options for those who need skills to live in society.
· ‘Third City Culture’
· This is where the assembly line of dysfunction begins — the breakdown of a good educational system and other traditional norms that prepare children to be solid little citizens, to enter the workforce or continue learning in some form of higher education.
· This morphing from young girls and boys into a alien life form, an uncaring entity that kills anything in its path, is the stark, urgent challenge we confront.
· This “Third City Culture” says we will make our own life with rules separate to yours. The mindset is unlike street culture in the past. Prisons mean little to people accustomed to harsh daily existence.
· It is a culture that was born in distress in many communities over the past decades. It is not exclusive to Detroit.
· The socioeconomics of post-industrial Michigan certainly have a significant role, though complex, multiple factors have created this culture that allows survival as the norm and rejects traditional mores
· Resources and Remedies
· Sunday’s heinous act on West Grand River near Lahser hurts Detroit. It is past time to address the outlaw culture that doesn’t care about a city reconstructing itself.
· Here are starting points for moving forward:
· ? 1. We need to address community mental health challenges with social workers, psychologist, clinicians, public health professionals and faith-based institutions, educators.
· ? 2. More essentially, we must address neglected social conditions in the neighborhoods. Even as Detroit’s population shrank during earlier years, there remained groups and leaders such as James and Grace Boggs who advocated for strong communities. Grass-roots groups such as Clementine Barfield’s Save Our Sons And Daughters (S.O.S.A.D.) engaged daily with young people and their families. Without such leadership, we cannot seriously make positive change towards healing.
· ? 3. Rethinking how to train, employ, house and support men and women who served sentences is an important part of this social puzzle. The state’s focus on assisting citizens released from prisons, part of criminal justice reforms proposed by the governor May 18, is welcome news.
· ? 4. Improving public education also should be a cornerstone of combating Third City Culture.
· This challenge demands much from different segments in Detroit.
· One alarming political undercurrent advocates armed self-defense as the primary response, but an us vs. them mindset will not resolve this challenge. Violence has been part of the last half-century in Detroit. We need peace, not more violence.
· Armed communities mean public law enforcement is not working. A militarized, armed solution would hurt Detroit and America more.
· Detroit has leaders, good young people and a chance to reconstruct beyond downtown and Midtown. Neighborhoods and families living in them matter.