I find it maddening that the same outrage and disgust expressed when an unarmed black teen is killed by a nonblack adult is not reflected on a national level, when incidents of gun violence, murder and mayhem — many involving teenagers — are happening on a regular basis in communities of color throughout this country.
Why does it seem less acceptable when someone from outside the community kills a black teenager than when someone from inside the community does the killing? The level of anger and desire for justice for the victim and punishment for the perpetrator should not be driven by the color of the alleged assailant’s skin. If black folks do not appear to value the lives of our children every day in our communities, then why do we think that people outside the community would value those same lives?
Unlike in Trayvon Martin’s case, Davis’ killing had several eyewitnesses who are helping the police build a case against Dunn. In some of our communities, if there are eyewitnesses to violent crimes, we often discourage them from reporting the crime and working with the police to apprehend the suspects. Instead, they are often labeled “snitches” if they actually report the crime and offer testimony.
We still don’t know who killed Tupac, Biggie or Jam Master Jay, and there were eyewitnesses to all three of those high-profile murders. What difference does it make if you are considered a pioneer, genius or game changer in the American mainstream and in black popular culture if your life isn’t valued enough for someone to reveal, “Who Shot Ya?”
I understand that there are many cultural reasons for this phenomenon of silence (fear of retaliation, police occupation instead of protection, economic inability to leave the community where the perpetrator might also reside). However, at what point do we stop leaning on these factors and start standing up for the black bodies — many of them teenagers’ — that are lining the streets of our communities?
What happened to Jordan Davis is awful, and we should all be calling for justice at the tops of our lungs. That demand should be just as loud when the alleged killer of one of our children looks like us, because if we don’t value our own, then who will?
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. She is also editor-in-chief of the Burton Wire, a blog dedicated to world news related to the African Diaspora and global culture. Follow her on Twitter.