By now you know that 14-year-old Jashawn Martin was shot to death by half-brothers Miniko Hicks and Donyell Walker in broad daylight March 21 when Martin stopped to watch a fight between two warring factions.
What you may not know is that the only thing sadder, more macabre and more indicative of the violent times in which our black boys are living in and have constructed for themselves isn’t a broad daylight street fight, but the strange appetite that begs a black boy follow the tumbleweed-of-a-brawl until its bloody — and in this case, deadly — conclusion.
Martin and the rest of the audience — at the least three other black boys who were shot and landed in the hospital — should have kept going and heard about the madness during Spring Break or when school reconvenes.
And so like all other violence that claims our children, be they black, white, Hispanic, Asian, entitled or just getting by, this is a morality play.
A morality play about choices, about groupthink.
We cannot speculate on or proselytize over the choices Hicks and Walker made last Friday.
They each chose to leave the house with handguns and to do someone deadly harm. Their parents are living with hearts of darkness right now and they may live out their days in this city as pariahs, because one gun-wielding son is a crapshoot, maybe a bad seed in the Offspring Lottery.
One can be apologized for, prayed for, forgiven even; two telegraphs that something is frighteningly and inherently wrong in more than your household.
Something is whack in your child rearing, in your son raising, in the way 18-year-old Walker looks up to his 20-year-old brother.
God bless this.
And as with all street justice bloodbaths, there is a Cincinnati street sign — Essex Place, exactly — with a pole festooned with a small but growing mound of dirtying teddy bears and expiring balloons.
Three days after the shooting I looked away from the indigent man, clutching his crumpled piece of cardboard with a message in Sharpie I can never make out, standing on the narrow real estate of concrete at the Taft Road exit ramp across from the Reading Road White Castle long enough to see a small black family hovering near the makeshift marker, their minivan parked steps away.
Is this the right thing to do, to bring our young children to a public place where another young child bled to death and died and where teddy bears will be mocked and faded by the passage of time; time that moves forward now without Martin?
Strangely, teddy bears are babyfied icons representing Martin’s too-young-to-die status but still icons he’d long outgrown.
Is showing young children the place where violence happened and could very well happen again the sweet and tender way?
A callous way?
A heartfelt way?
Just an organic way of dealing with the suddenness of pop-up grief?
The stretch of William Howard Taft Road heading west where it intersects with Essex Place is a superhighway of black teenagers heading to or coming from the Dohn Community High School (for kids who’ve failed other places) on East McMillan around the corner, catching buses at Reading and Taft roads to get to other schools or home or, as Martin was, walking to visit friends living in Walnut Hills, Clifton or Avondale.
I wish to God Martin and the three black boys who were shot and injured had run across Taft Road just seconds before the shooting and caught a no. 31 bus where the indigent man stands, out of harm’s way.
Every morning from our Walnut Hills apartment to Clifton where I drop my partner for work I take notice of the urban and sometimes ghetto terrain black kids have to safely manage to get to where they’re going, and sometimes there are tiny, elementary school-aged siblings pulling behind them still smaller siblings.
I do not hold judgment because this is the way many families must run their households.
However, the biggest obstacles along these treks can be black kids themselves.
If it is true the two factions fighting in public on that corner last Friday were “rivals,” as the mainstream media has reported, then they must hail from different, neighboring communities or nearby high schools.
(I know black kids in Avondale are clannish and cliquish and fights can jump off between them and other black kids passing through Avondale who do not “belong.” I also know some black kids at Withrow High School have an imperceptible “school pride” that can read as gang mentality or gang behavior out in the streets.)
And while police are rightfully slow to call this “gang violence,” it is precisely that if each group so closely identifies itself respectively to the crowd it rolls with and is willing to settle a beef or show who is indeed the baddest by resorting to public violence.
Gangs do not always run guns, drugs or women, have teardrops representing dead bodies inked on their cheeks or sport the colors of the Crips or the Bloods.
A gang is more than one person — a group, however large or small, organized or not — under the influence of groupthink; lemmings who follow the crowd they’re swept up with.
Democrats and Republicans are gangs and even have colors and symbols they’re identified by. Police forces are definitely gangs who are taught to believe one driving tenant and to identify their enemies at all costs and who wear distinctive, identifying uniforms.
To be a black boy, still so uncertain of himself — wobbly in his identity — and to be walking along the literal path of violence among two, yes, gangs of other black teenagers in the thickest and dumbest part of groupthink must be a frightening existence because Jashawn Martin hadn’t yet exercised that part of his still-developing frontal lobe that could have helped him decide to turn and go the other way.
Neither did two entire gangs of black teenagers.
Spring has broken.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]