Activists see link in crime, social issues

 

Black-on-black crime is a long-debated and often divisive issue.

Some argue that it only perpetuates racial boundaries to discuss the topic; others say it's a pressing issue that must be solved.

But with killings on Friday and Saturday, it's evident that something must be done, city activists say.

Early Saturday morning, Edward Cousette, 32, was shot to death outside Trinity Manor Apartments. That gives Augusta 20 homicides between June 13 and Sept. 18, the most in a four-month period since 2004.

Here's what the numbers show: Cousette was the 14th black victim out of 20, or 70 percent; 16 of the 21 people arrested in connection with the crimes were black, or 76 percent.

The question of black-on-black crime, its cause and its solution elicits many responses.

"Education" is a word that comes up a lot in the discussion. So do "parenting," "the church" and "drugs."

Keith New knows about education. He's a teacher at the Richmond County Alternative School, where the delinquents and trouble students are sent.

From his experience, many young black boys are labeled as hyperactive or diagnosed as having attention disorders. That's just a misunderstanding, he said.

"We are a different breed," he said. "We are loud people."

The students are sent to the alternative school where they must be challenged to keep their interest in school, New said. Fewer students would drop out of any school if the curriculum better met their needs, he added.

Once they drop out of school, they wander the streets without an identity or purpose in life, New said, except immediate gratification.

The attitude is "I see what I want and I want it right now," New said.

That's why young black men are stealing TVs, robbing and killing, New said.

The Rev. Larry Fryer adheres to a similar philosophy that he picked up from a meeting with Martin Luther King III. King told him that there remains a stigma among some that being black isn't beautiful.

"When a black man sees another black man he hates what he sees and tries to destroy it," Fryer quoted King as saying.

Fryer tries to counter that image and negative behavior by mentoring young children. Young mothers and a lack of responsible fathers "creates a cycle of pain," Fryer said.

New also believes that the lack of education is creating an identity crisis.

Black children are flipping through history books at school and they see no one who looks like them, except the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, New said. But New said when children go home and flip on the TV, they see three black men: the football and basketball player and the rap star.

"I have children who have never played organized basketball but their dream is to be in the NBA," New said.

Only a small percentage of exceptional players make it into professional sports, so black boys turn to rappers for their role models, according to New.

A lifestyle of flashy cars, designer clothes and beautiful women doesn't come cheap, so crime is the next step to gaining status, New said.

Former City Councilwoman Margaret Armstrong would add increased law enforcement to the list of solutions.

"Once you eliminate the availability of the drugs on the street, that's the best place to start," Armstrong said.

Armstrong proposes a funding boost for law enforcement, even if it means an extra 1-cent added to the sales tax for this area.

Community policing and improved visibility would serve as a deterrent against crime and bolster the confidence of residents too scared of retaliation to speak out against crime, Armstrong said.

"It's a fear factor," Armstrong said. "I'm not going to say I'm not afraid, but you have to stand up sometime."

CORRECTION:

- Because of a reporter's error, an article in Sunday's editions of The Augusta Chronicle misstated teacher Keith New's opinion about the Richmond County Alternative School. He believes that fewer students would drop out of any school if the curriculum better met their needs.