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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

We just need to focus

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Recently, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett declared, “The partisan lines that once divided Indiana have evaporated.”

His statement seems more aspirational than editorial if one considers the rancor that exists between the Democrats who control the Indianapolis City-County Council and the Republicans who control the State Legislature. Indeed, those partisan lines seem to have ossified.

Yet, we’re in the age of the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, this crisis has caused Hogsett, a Democrat, and Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, to figuratively hold hands as they jointly announced stay-at-home directives and other actions that are designed to slow the rapacious spread of COVID-19. (One can’t help but note how different this show of unity is from their counterparts in New York — both of whom are Democrats.)

Even the Congress, which usually is bitterly divided, reached an agreement regarding the largest stimulus package in history — unanimously so in the Senate. Even more stunningly, they did so in what amounted to a matter of days. To say this was uncharacteristic would be a gross understatement, especially given the legislation’s gifts to corporations and the wealthy, which normally would make Democrats chafe. There is, it seems, a glimmer of hope that this outbreak of sanity and cooperation could last beyond our present crisis. (Just kidding! Please accept my apologies for inserting a scene from the Theatre of the Absurd.)

The bottom line is that a crisis — war, famine, disease — can create a spirit of cooperation among our politicians and among ordinary citizens that would otherwise be unthinkable. During such times, we tend to focus less on personal motivations than we do on optimal outcomes. Some people “do the right thing” because it is in their self-interest, whereas altruistic people seek the well-being of others. (Some in the latter category are willing to do so even to their own detriment.)

Speaking of a crisis, Indianapolis began this year with a literal bang — or, more accurately, multiple bangs — especially among African Americans. Specifically, there were 31 homicides of African Americans in the first 60 days of 2020. During this period, the overall murder rate placed our city on par with New York and Los Angeles. (Sadly, close neighbor Chicago had more than twice our number of homicides during January and February.)

Fortunately, our homicide rate has slowed substantially in recent weeks. (Law enforcement officials and other city leaders believe the stay-at-home directives, whether from companies or the government, likely play a role in this reduction.) Unfortunately, as indicated by a deadly shooting just a few days ago, we still have much work to do in trying to stem the violence — especially before warmer weather arrives.

I raise this issue in large measure because I see the importance of executing a laser-like focus on an acute, hopefully temporary, phenomenon. When we recognize that a threat has the potential to affect all of us, we muster the resources that are necessary to address it. We even bury longstanding political hatchets. In the words of The Beatles, we “come together.”

This city and this nation are in a crisis vis-à-vis the homicide rate among young Black men and boys. They are killing each other at a phenomenal rate. I don’t have space here to explore the causes, but that singular fact is irrefutable. What if we were to muster the resources that are necessary to address this phenomenon? What if we were to bury longstanding political hatchets to search for solutions to this crisis? What if we were to “come together” to solve this hopefully temporary phenomenon?

I am quite aware that naysayers, know-nothings and ne’er-do-wells snipe at the focused attention that the nation is shedding on the coronavirus. (Until quite recently, billionaire Elon Musk was among them. Fortunately, he decided to be a help rather than a hindrance.) Some of these people don’t trust “the government.” Some of these people don’t trust scientists or other experts. Some of these people simply lack compassion for others — until those “others” are their loved ones.

Similarly, there are people who are content to watch the homicide rate of Black men and boys to continue unabated. They don’t feel that this particular crisis affects them or their loved ones, so they don’t have a sense of urgency to solve it. (I should note that this misanthropy toward Black men and boys is not only a problem among white people. Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till, confessed that she was not all that concerned about the plight of Blacks in the South — until her son was brutally murdered.)

We are treating COVID-19 as a national crisis — which it is. During such times we mobilize the military — which we have. I am calling on our government, at all levels, to treat Black-on-Black violent crime as a national crisis — which it is. I also am calling on every citizen, everywhere, to treat this crisis like it affects all of us — because it does.

As a Black man, as the father of an adolescent Black boy, and as the grandfather of an infant Black boy, I understand that it is incumbent upon me not only to be vigilant in my defense of our lives, but also to be a vigorous evangelist who highlights the fact that each of these deaths is a diminution of all of us. One cannot be truly pro-life if one does not value the life of his or her neighbor. When one of us is killed, part of all of us dies.

Earlier I referenced The Beatles, which is one of my favorite groups. I believe that Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (with the incomparable Teddy Pendergrass singing lead) intended a mild rebuke of the boys from Liverpool with the song “Wake Up Everybody.” The chorus includes the words, “The world won’t get no better if we just let it be. The world won’t get no better. We gotta change it, yeah, just you and me.” Truer words have never been sung.

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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