A St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist, Bill McClellan, wrote a column last week about the young men who wreak violence in some St. Louis neighborhoods, some who even carry assault weapons down the street in bright sunshine. The metaphor I'd use is that they are a perfect storm.
These are men who don't have jobs. They probably dropped out of failing schools. Their fathers are likely in prison and may have been there since they were kids. Thanks to welfare reform, their moms had to work. They were probably hungry sometimes, especially as young teens. They may well have had lead paint poisoning as toddlers.
Some of the boys they went to school with are dead, killed by older youths who are dead too or in prison. That's the future they see: prison or death.
They are angry young men, and they terrorize their neighbors.
The immediate cause of McClellan's musings, a 21-year-old whose cousin brought him a good shirt to wear during the trial, was sentenced to life in prison. McClellan calls him and the young men like him the elephant in the room when it comes to discussion about racism and violence. As I say, I call them the perfect storm.
Yes, they have free will, and we must hold them accountable for the mayhem they cause. But who holds us accountable for the failing schools, the mass incarceration, the so-called welfare reform that withholds food by limiting food stamps and demands that mothers leave the home to work? We've made the guns available.
I'm troubled that the police quickly caught the man who shot two of their own recently in Ferguson but have not solved hundreds of other shootings, including the murders of children. Some of the point of #BlackLivesMatter is that the lives of these victims don't seem to matter right now. Yes, these men who wreak the violence are gangsters. I want them caught and held accountable. And every time there's a conversation about racism and white privilege, somebody brings up black-on-black crime. We say plenty about it.
But how do we hold ourselves accountable? I think that's the elephant in the discussion.