The “Circus” 

How do we stop the merry-go-round of tragedy?

Last week, the "circus" returned to Orange Mound. Hundreds lined Enterprise Street not to see clowns, not to marvel at the majesty of elephants or lions, but to watch the eerie sight of a coroner's wagon maneuvering to the back of a house to pick up the bullet-riddled bodies of James and Danielle Alexander.

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It's a sad part of my job as a reporter to come to such scenes. Every time I do, I always try to put in the back of my mind the criticism of those who regard reporters as parasites leeching off the misery of others in order to get a story. However, when I look around at crime scenes it's the morbid curiosity of others that makes me feel it's important to be there to get the true details of what happened. No one should gawk at a scene of human tragedy as if they're watching a scripted television show and eating a bag of potato chips. Each time I draw these assignments, especially in the African-American community, it is hard to try and divest myself of the emotions of the moment. I want to make the argument that it should be the same for you, when you see it broadcast later that day.

We have become a callous society. I'm not trying to drop some guilt trip on you. I'm just saying if the loss of human life, no matter how distant it is from one's personal environment, doesn't elicit some emotional response from the general public, then the deterioration of the country's morals and ethics can't be far behind. I know the majority of whites in Memphis feel murders and violent crimes in African-American neighborhoods are not their problem. To a great extent, I agree with you.

Black-on-black crime statistics are ridiculous. Numbers derived of decades of embracing some misguided sub-culture which has replaced the "American Dream" with a bizarro world equivalent, where success is measured in criminal arrests, bullet wounds, the number of illegitimate babies one can father, how much dope you can sling, and an adoption of a stereotypical swagger based on bluff, devoid of intelligence. In too many cases, blacks have shirked their parental responsibilities. Too many black children have grown up with no role models, other than inane entertainers, self-aggrandizing sports personalities, or street corner philosophers who dispense precisely the wrong information about how to overcome the obstacles presented by everyday life in America. And here's the kicker: History doesn't and shouldn't owe we African Americans anything! It's well chronicled how men and women such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Memphis' own Benjamin Hooks laid their blood, sweat, and tears on the line to enable future generations to enter the doors of equal opportunity. All of the civil rights legislation enabling that to happen has been passed. The biggest hurdle remains in the immeasurably difficult task of getting the minds of men and women to accept and take advantage of what are now the laws of the land as they apply to equal rights.

Let me at this point echo the words of Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong. When asked by a gaggle of media people about the rash of violent crimes in the city, Armstrong told the truth. When it comes to guns, he said, all of us should recognize and understand to the responsibility that comes with owning a gun.

This week, I spoke with WDIA radio personality Bev Johnson, who comes from the same "old school" as I do. She spoke emphatically about how fear has gripped our community — the trepidation from all the guns on the streets in the black community. But she also reflected on how life used to be in our neighborhoods, back when people — relatives and neighbors — wanted to be a part of the village that raised a child. She talked about the days when people were more willing to monitor potential problems they observed on their streets, when they opted to get involved rather than refrain for fear of retaliation.

So rest assured, white community: The British had it wrong in regards to the future of the colored race, because we're not your "burden" to assume. But the hard truth is, if we don't all work together to address this epidemic, next time the circus may be setting up a big top on your street.

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