Originally created 07/18/01

A decade of advocacy for black homicide victims brings changes to system

TEN YEARS ago on a hot day in June, my sister and I were motivated by fear to bring attention to the epidemic of black-on-black violence. In 1991, Augusta/Richmond County had the highest homicide rate ever recorded. Ninety seven percent of these homicides were blacks killed by other blacks.

We understood early on that black-on-black violence was bigger than one brother killing another. One of the many facts we identified was the injustice and double standards of the criminal justice system. Historically, blacks had not been punished harshly enough for killing other blacks, and we were convinced that this contributed to the epidemic of black-on-black violence.

In 1991 the average bond for a black defendant in a black-on-black killing was $20,000. This aspect of the criminal justice system has changed. In 2001, for example, a 24-year-old man was released on $100,000 bond after the murder of a 42-year-old victim.

Defendants are spending more time in jail as the result of more trials.

Initially we met with Judge William Fleming in an effort to understand the system. We needed to understand the terms "murder," "voluntary manslaughter," "plea bargain" and bonding criteria.

TEN YEARS AGO Blacks Against Black Crime dared to dream of a world in which all crime victims and their families are treated with compassion and dignity. In 1993 we met with District Attorney Danny Craig to voice our concerns about the lack of prosecution of black-on-black homicides. He listens to the voices of all crime victims and has prosecuted homicide cases equitably.

We have seen more murder convictions for black-on-black homicide. We believe this has contributed to the decline in these incidents. Compared with 10 years ago, we are a much better system and a safer community.

We pay tribute to Sheila Stahl, director of the Victims Assistance Department of the Augusta Richmond County judicial system. Our collective dream of victims' justice is built upon the painful realization of the nightmare that crime has wreaked on our community.

At times funeral homes contact us when victims are without funds for burial. We contact Victims Assistance and they help families apply for funds. We communicate with the office weekly, sometimes daily.

TOGETHER WE share the burden of those whose losses are immeasurable, and who feel such a tremendous obligation to stand for the rights of their loved ones. Their pain and suffering are our incentives to continue efforts to prevent crime. Black crime victims are no longer nameless, faceless entities.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s the type of killings changed; they were more random, different from the Saturday-night brawls and crimes of passion. We saw in the 1970s that killers were younger, cold-blooded, and without conscience or remorse.

How did we get to this place? Why had African Americans become the victims and victimizers? In the 1980s we experienced the President Reagan-induced poverty, an increase in cocaine use and the introduction of crack cocaine. One year after the introduction of crack cocaine, gun manufacturers increased their production by 42 percent. The lethality of firearms escalated from low-caliber to high-caliber revolvers and semi-automatics.

The media has severely damaged the African-American image by desensitizing young people to violence and death as it continues to glamorize illegitimacy.

IS THERE A connection between the disproportionate number of blacks assigned to special education and the disproportionate number of black male victimizers?

Those in special education are unable to feel good about themselves, are labeled stupid, robbed of self-esteem, and feel nothing is expected of them. It is part of an instilled inferiority and dehumanization process.

This can lead to dropping out of schools, illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and ultimately criminal activity. To blame others would be easy, but we knew if we were to truly make a difference, it would take honesty. We had to take a critical self-inventory and analysis.

In the 1970s and 1980s, middle class blacks fled the inner city, leaving it without positive role models. Too many black intellectuals have refused to remain in some visible way connected to black cultural life and the social misery of the underclass.

THE URBAN Institute in Washington, D.C. defines the underclass family as headed by a single female, members are welfare dependent, marginally educated, chronically unemployed and engaged in repeated patterns of criminal deviance.

The act of creating new life is taken so lightly that school children sing about it. Repetition becomes a fact, and it condemns young mothers to a life of poverty, poor education and welfare. It is difficult for a single, teen-age mother to promote psycho-social development in her children when she is deprived of that development.

We must take responsibility for our own behavior in order to change things that are wrong. If we improve our community, we improve our city. If we improve our city, we improve our state and nation.

Blacks Against Black Crime has been labeled racist and accused of causing polarization. We are volunteers working to save people from their own destruction. We are realists. We see things as they are and not the way we would like them to be. We joined with organizations across the state and nation and will stand with anyone if they stand for what is right for all.

THE LAST 10 years have been challenging. The sacrifices have been many. Our focus has been and continues to be advocating for black homicide victims. We ask for continued support of this city as we continue our passionate efforts to reduce crime and violence.

(Editor's note: The author is president and co-founder of Blacks Against Black Crime, Inc.)


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