What's A Black Life Worth?

What's A Black Life Worth?

The familiar hashtag on Twitter and picture on other forms of social media for the past few days since the non indictment of officer Darren Wilson in the murder of Michael Brown has been “What’s a black life worth?”

I am a black man and there have been times I thought the value of the life of me or one of my fellow brothers has been rather low. The whole situation that came out of Ferguson, Missouri saddens me, just they way everything was handled from day one was less than ideal and I feel for all of those involved.

But more importantly I think that most of us black men know that us being shot in the street is a real risk but its more likely the shooter will be a fellow “brother” and not a white cop.

I’m just keeping it real, hundreds and I means hundreds of black men are shot and killed in the street yearly here in my hometown of Chicago. And this is not new, the murder rate has been as high as 600 in some years and that goes back to the 1970’s.

I understand the Michael Brown incident was different and we may never know the whole story on it and blame can be placed all over the place but hear me out, how many brothers like myself have buried a friend or two or more because of gun violence?

I think about Marcus Campbell often, he was fellow West Pullman kid like me (from east of Halsted on 120th Street), he was a year older than me, I knew him through our local scout troop (1792), and church. Marcus was smart, funny and business minded, I looked up to him because you could tell “Marcus was going to be somebody”.

He attended Jones Commercial High School (even tried to get me to transfer out of Brother Rice to join him), in the south loop and planned to follow his father in being a black businessman. He always talked about his business classes and meeting with business people downtown, he had the gift of gab and could sell you a snowball during a blizzard. Marcus had a lot of charisma for a teenager but never lorded it over you, he made everyone comfortable and always had you laughing.

His father owned a store on east 75th Street in South Shore and Marcus often worked in the store. One night in April of 1992 while closing up, Marcus went out to the car and was shot and later died at the hospital. His brother Mike called me at home the next day (we were on spring break), and it was one of the hardest phone calls I ever had to this day.

His funeral was later that week at Third Baptist Church at 95th & Ashland, it was one of those “coming of age moments”, I was sixteen years old and on my spring break and here was my friend in a casket, turned out it was a case of mistaken identity but it didn’t matter Marcus wasn’t coming back to church or scouts. I know he would have earned the top rank of Eagle Scout and would have been a successful man in life not just business. His life was valuable and that’s why 22 years later I’m telling you about him.

Unfortunately I have another story, though I didn’t know my Brother Rice classmate Rahnold Washington well, being there were only about 20 African Americans in the class of 1994, we were all familiar with each other, which made it that much harder when Rahnold was shot and killed right before the end of our senior year. Rahnold was from Washington Heights, further north than me.

His funeral was the morning of our prom at St Margaret of Scotland on 99th & Throop (where years later I would be a parishioner and even get married there), and even harder was the next week at our graduation there was Rahnold’s empty chair with his cap and gown on it. Ron had been accepted to SIU Carbondale and was another brother who you knew “would be somebody”. His mother spoke at our graduation, I remember my parents being awed at the strength of her to do that. I still think about him too in that same ‘what if” sense.

The next spring I had my own close call being car jacked in Harvey and having a 9mm gun put to my head and having a shot being fired in my car. I know it was a 9mm because my late father took the dashboard apart after the police got the car back and found the bullet. I can still remember having that cold steel gun against my head and later hearing that shot and thinking “this might be it”.

But I’m still here almost 20 years later and in all three cases the men who pulled those triggers were black men against other black men.

Last week I told you the tragic story of prep star Ben Wilson, same urban violence, same black on black crime.

On warm nights you hear of dozen of shootings in the news (and you can hear shots in the distance in my native West Pullman), but you don’t have the outrage we just saw for Michael Brown. Now I know there is a lot of racial frustration out there, trust me I see it, feel it and experience racism too.

But when we say “What is a black life worth?”, I say a lot, look at my long gone friends, those brothers meant a lot to many people and I have not forgotten nor will I ever forget. Those brothers didn’t die in vain, they were not statistics or just another brother in the wrong place at the wrong time. They represented the future, hard work and what it takes to be a good brother and I’ll be damn if their lives weren’t valuable.

But until there is understanding across the country (especially in the hood), of the value of life, then we’ll keep living this same story over again and again.

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    Charles W. Johnson

    I'm a lifelong writer (since I was 8 years old), and have been doing this blog in some form or fashion since 2004. I'm a DePaul University alum, class of 1999 and prior to that Brother Rice class of 1994. . And I appreciate you taking to the time to read what I have to say, feel free to email charles.w.johnson@hotmail.com

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