Crime and death at a young age: Is this why King died? FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Thu, 9 Apr 1998 00:53:12 -0700 (PDT)


FWD http://www.startext.net/news/doc/1047/1:RELIGION32/1:RELIGION32040798.html

Updated: Tuesday, Apr. 7, 1998 at 09:26 CDT

Crime and death at a young age: Is this why King died?

By Samuel K. Atchison
c. 1998 Religion News Service

UNDATED -- In my hometown of Trenton, N.J., ceremonies observing the 30th
anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King
Jr's assassination were shadowed by sorrow over a more recent death. On
April 3 -- the eve of the King anniversary -- Jenny
Hightower, 14, was laid to rest.

Hightower was killed March 27 by a gunshot wound to the back of the head
while joyriding in a stolen car. According to
police reports, Hubert Moore, the 16-year-old driver of the car, struck a
police officer with the car in an attempt to escape after
initially stopping in an apparent gesture of surrender. Moore was wounded
and Hightower killed as police opened fire in an
effort to apprehend the suspects.

The incident sent shockwaves throughout the city, with some suspecting a
racial motive in the shooting of black teens by white
police officers.

Yet I found myself asking: Is this why King died?

For many African-Americans over 35, familiarity with and reverence for the
heroes who fought in the civil rights struggle was
a rite of passage.

W.E.B. Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph, Rosa Parks and Fanny Lou Hamer comprise
but a few of the names in the
African-American pantheon. Indeed, the names of our most prominent martyrs
-- Medgar, Malcolm and Martin -- constitute a
veritable mantra among socially conscious blacks.

Yet even more important than knowing the heroes of the struggle was
appreciation for the struggle itself, for beyond the public
issue of civil rights, the struggle -- as drilled into the heads of many
black kids by our elders -- was about achieving greatness
in every possible way, thus exposing as liars those who would characterize
us as lazy, shiftless and good-for-nothing.

Thus King's rhetoric about black emancipation was always accompanied by a
exhortation to black responsibility. He spoke of
the need for fiscal prudence among black families; implored clergy to
develop ministries addressing both the physical and
spiritual needs of their congregations; and used Jesus' parable of the Good
Samaritan to challenge us to embrace a "dangerous
unselfishness" by helping others even at great risk to ourselves.

Within this context, the racially divisive issue of white cops shooting
black children -- while important and worthy of
investigation on its own merits -- nevertheless begs an equally important
question: What were Hightower and Moore doing in a
stolen car in the first place?

I raise this question not to be insensitive to the grief of the teens'
families, but because, as a prison chaplain and a father, I see
a pattern that is dangerous to all the children of our community.

Each year black youths throughout the country are involved in violent
confrontations with police, confrontations which the
young inevitably lose, either through imprisonment or death.

In nearly every case, the first question on the minds of many blacks --
including myself -- is whether or not race was involved.
And, given the history of officially sanctioned racial violence in this
country, it is a question that needs asking.

However, but what concerns me just as much is that too often
African-Americans fail to raise the more probing,
conscience-disturbing questions: What were the children doing to warrant
the attention of the police? Why were they violating
the law? What values do we need to communicate to them so that youthful
pranks do not lead to transgressions of the law that
culminate in untimely funerals?

If blacks are to be true to the legacy of King and all the others involved
in the struggle -- many paying with their lives -- we
must be willing to search our own souls as vigorously as we investigate the
motives of others.

To do less is to tarnish their memory.

(Samuel K. Atchison is an ordained minister and has worked as a policy
analyst and social worker to the homeless. He
currently is a prison chaplain in Trenton, N.J.)

Distributed by The Associated Press (AP)



Updated: Tuesday, Apr. 7, 1998 at 09:26 CDT


Crime and death at a young age: Is this why King died?

By Samuel K. Atchison
c. 1998 Religion News Service [AP]

UNDATED -- In my hometown of Trenton, N.J., ceremonies observing the 30th
anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King
Jr's assassination were shadowed by sorrow over a more recent death. On
April 3 -- the eve of the King anniversary -- Jenny
Hightower, 14, was laid to rest.

Hightower was killed March 27 by a gunshot wound to the back of the head
while joyriding in a stolen car. According to
police reports, Hubert Moore, the 16-year-old driver of the car, struck a
police officer with the car in an attempt to escape after
initially stopping in an apparent gesture of surrender. Moore was wounded
and Hightower killed as police opened fire in an
effort to apprehend the suspects.

The incident sent shockwaves throughout the city, with some suspecting a
racial motive in the shooting of black teens by white
police officers.

Yet I found myself asking: Is this why King died?

For many African-Americans over 35, familiarity with and reverence for the
heroes who fought in the civil rights struggle was
a rite of passage.

W.E.B. Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph, Rosa Parks and Fanny Lou Hamer comprise
but a few of the names in the
African-American pantheon. Indeed, the names of our most prominent martyrs
-- Medgar, Malcolm and Martin -- constitute a
veritable mantra among socially conscious blacks.

Yet even more important than knowing the heroes of the struggle was
appreciation for the struggle itself, for beyond the public
issue of civil rights, the struggle -- as drilled into the heads of many
black kids by our elders -- was about achieving greatness
in every possible way, thus exposing as liars those who would characterize
us as lazy, shiftless and good-for-nothing.

Thus King's rhetoric about black emancipation was always accompanied by a
exhortation to black responsibility. He spoke of
the need for fiscal prudence among black families; implored clergy to
develop ministries addressing both the physical and
spiritual needs of their congregations; and used Jesus' parable of the Good
Samaritan to challenge us to embrace a "dangerous
unselfishness" by helping others even at great risk to ourselves.

Within this context, the racially divisive issue of white cops shooting
black children -- while important and worthy of
investigation on its own merits -- nevertheless begs an equally important
question: What were Hightower and Moore doing in a
stolen car in the first place?

I raise this question not to be insensitive to the grief of the teens'
families, but because, as a prison chaplain and a father, I see
a pattern that is dangerous to all the children of our community.

Each year black youths throughout the country are involved in violent
confrontations with police, confrontations which the
young inevitably lose, either through imprisonment or death.

In nearly every case, the first question on the minds of many blacks --
including myself -- is whether or not race was involved.
And, given the history of officially sanctioned racial violence in this
country, it is a question that needs asking.

However, but what concerns me just as much is that too often
African-Americans fail to raise the more probing,
conscience-disturbing questions: What were the children doing to warrant
the attention of the police? Why were they violating
the law? What values do we need to communicate to them so that youthful
pranks do not lead to transgressions of the law that
culminate in untimely funerals?

If blacks are to be true to the legacy of King and all the others involved
in the struggle -- many paying with their lives -- we
must be willing to search our own souls as vigorously as we investigate the
motives of others.

To do less is to tarnish their memory.

(Samuel K. Atchison is an ordained minister and has worked as a policy
analyst and social worker to the homeless. He
currently is a prison chaplain in Trenton, N.J.)

Distributed by The Associated Press (AP)


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