12/5/2007 – Printed in the NATIONAL section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper
New York Times reporter Dave Caldwell described the scene Sunday in Landover, Md., where the Washington Redskins lost to the Buffalo Bills 17-16 on a field goal with four seconds on the clock.
After the go-ahead kick, Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot lay face down on the field. He was there so long his teammates thought he had been injured.
“Smoot was fine, physically,” Caldwell wrote. “Asked later what he was thinking as he lay still on the field, Smoot said softly: ‘That I let my man down. We were so close, and I let my man down.'”
Smoot was referring to his teammate, free safety Sean Taylor, who had died Nov. 27 after being shot the day before during an apparent burglary attempt in his Miami home.
The article caught my attention because of Smoot’s words: “I let my man down.” Obviously, Smoot was talking about the wrenching loss to the Bills. He and his teammates had wanted to win that game for the 24-year-old Taylor, a Pro Bowler who was having his best year yet.
I saw Smoot’s words, “I let my man down,” in a broader and more damning context. Yes, he may have let down Taylor on the field. But we, black people – especially males – let Taylor down in life.
Too many of us are letting ourselves down as a people.
We reject the truth, but here it is: Because of the regularity at which black men kill one another, we virtually have become inured to all but the deaths of the rich and famous at the hands of another black male, a la Sean Taylor.
We have devalued our lives. We do not respect one another. In fact, dissing is expected. Our very existence is cheap. Violence against one another has become our way of life, how we solve our problems. I have said it before and I will say it again – we have been cruel toward one another for so long that we have internalized the belief that being cruel to one another is normal. Cruelty should not be accepted as normal.
Listen to the Rev. Jesse Jackson allude to the epidemic of black-on-black violence as he addressed mourners at Taylor’s funeral in Miami: “We are slow learners. We are in a hole, looking for a shovel, when what we really need is a rope. To you, who remain, and to your children and your families, I say we need soldiers to put out his fire that has engulfed Sean. We need a new game plan.”
We need a new game plan. The old one is suicidal.
Consider the numbers: According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, although blacks constituted only 13 percent of the population in 2005, they were victims of about 49 percent of all homicides. The bureau estimated that 16,400 murders occurred in the United States in 2005. Of that number, 8,000 victims were black, 93 percent of those victims were killed by other blacks and 77 percent of those murders involved firearms. Most of the black victims were between the ages of 17 and 29.
I am disappointed and angry that many prominent black journalists, especially sportswriters, are more worried about the images and portrayals of Taylor’s death than about the hard realities of it. They worry more about what they refer to as the “stereotypical narrative” than about the substantive welfare of black men.
“The shooting death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor,” one blogger wrote, “has left some African-American sportswriters concerned that coverage by their predominantly white colleagues will unfairly emphasize negative aspects of Taylor’s past.”
The blogger’s concern is misplaced.
The carnage of black-on-black violence is a real threat to any hope of a viable future for black America. Such carnage is not a journalistic debate between white and black writers. It is a frightening reality.