The face of gun violence is not Sandy Hook. It is Chicago.
In 2012, President Barack Obama’s adopted hometown had 506 murders, including more than 60 children. Philadelphia, a city that local television newscasters frequently call ‘Killadelphia,” saw 331 killed last year. In Detroit, 386 people were murdered.
Since 1966, there have been 90 school shootings in the U.S., with 231 fatalities. Yes Sandy Hook shocked us. But the odds of a child being killed at a school shooting are longer than the odds of being struck by lightning.
Of the 11,000 to 12,000 gun murders each year, more than half involve both black killers and black victims, mostly in urban areas and mostly gang-related. The number one cause of preventable death for young black men is not auto accidents or accidental drowning, but homicide.
Rapper/actor Ice T (“Cop Killer”) and I attended the same high school. In the 1991 John Singleton film “Boyz n the Hood,” the teenagers attend that school, and car-cruise the South Central Los Angeles boulevard after which the school is named.
Crenshaw High opened in 1968. By the time Ice-T left, less than a decade later, Crenshaw had become, in the rapper’s words, “a Crip school” — meaning one controlled by that street gang. Because of the school’s reputation for violence, Time Magazine called it “Fort Crenshaw.” A powerhouse in basketball and football, the school lost its accreditation 2005, before getting it back in 2006 on a short-term basis.
In 1970, I was part of the second graduating class in the new school’s history. Some kids, who started with me in the 10th grade, did not finish. But it was the exception rather than the rule. By 2012, only 51 percent of Crenshaw’s students graduated.
Dads disappeared. Or, more precisely, to use Bill Cosby’s term, the number of “unwed fathers” exploded.
In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote “The Negro Family: A Case for National Action.” At the time, 25 percent of blacks children were born out of wedlock, a number Moynihan called alarming. Fast forward to the present, 72 percent of black children are now born out of wedlock. In fact, 36 percent of white children are born out of wedlock. Of Hispanic children, 53 percent are born outside of marriage.
In “Boyz n the Hood,” Tre, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., has an active father in his life. Doughboy, played by Ice Cube, was raised without a father. His mother resents him because she dislikes his father. On the other hand, Gooding’s hardworking, responsible father, played by Laurence Fishburne, stays on his son. He warns him against hanging out with the wrong people and that becoming a street criminal was a trap. He lectures his son that “any fool with a [penis] can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children.”
Studies show that children of divorced parents can have outcomes as positive as those coming from intact homes, provided the father remains financially supportive and active in his children’s lives.
But what happens without dads in the ‘hood?
In 1979, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth found that fatherless kids were twice as likely to drop out of school and that girls who grew up without dads were 2.5 times more likely to become pregnant teenagers.
Rutgers University sociology professor David Popenoe published “Life Without Father” in 1996, where he describes the “massive erosion” of fathers in America. Popenoe concluded that boys raised without fathers were more likely to have problems with drugs, alcohol, behavior and social interactions. Several studies during the ’90s found that disruption in family structures was a predictor of children’s gang involvement.
Many on the left dismiss the importance of fathers as “right-wing,” blame-the-victim propaganda. Well, the late rapper Tupac Shakur, in the posthumously released documentary “Resurrection,” said: “I know for a fact that had I had a father, I’d have some discipline. I’d have more confidence.” He admits that he starting hanging out with gangs because he wanted to belong to a family structure, and it offered of structure, support and protection — the kind of thing we once expected home and family to provide.
The formula for achieving middle-class success is simple: Finish high school; don’t have a child before the age of 20; and get married before having the child. Preparing for the future requires dedication. It requires deferring gratification, precisely the kind of “discipline” that Tupac admitted he lacked because he grew up without a father.
Doing what you want to do is easy. Doing what you have to do is hard. Dads, by getting up and going to work each day, send a powerful message every day to their children: Hard work wins. There are no short cuts. The outcome is unknowable. But the effort is entirely within your control.