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This Orphanage We Call a Ghetto is Quite a Routine #WhyWeCantWait

Girl jumped in Brooklyn brawl

Aniah Ferguson, arrested for leading the brawl at the Flatbush McDonald’s

“Stop all this pacifying the wrongs of our race and call those beasts out for their barbaric behaviors.”

A close friend sent this text message to me after she saw the footage of the young girls pummeling another girl in a McDonald’s in Brooklyn. My friend was well aware of my refusal to use dehumanizing labels for people who commit even the most heinous of acts, especially children.

A quick scroll down my Facebook page showed friends calling the girls animals and others chastising the spectators’ video recording of the wanton violence. One person even suggested that NYS should not raise the age of criminal responsibility (as it was only one of two states in the country that still charged teens as adults).

My first reaction to the video was, “wow, imagine if we had cell phones when I went to school in the 80’s and 90’s.” The first time I saw an act of violence was in the 2nd grade when I saw a 4th grader slice another 4th grader with a razor in my grade school.

Over the next few years, I saw girls jump each other while boys like me fawned to see a tit exposed, while others took bets on how long the person being jumped would last before giving up. I vividly recall being jumped by three boys in my 9th grade hallway so badly that my temples were tumor-like swollen.

I also recall participating in the beating of a man where at least a dozen boys from my Brooklyn block only stopped beating this man when we heard police sirens—we were deaf to anything else, but our insatiable actions of violence. While my generation could only chant “fight, fight!” to amplify the warped adrenalinic excitement with school and teen violence, people today can quietly YouTube the violence to people thousands of miles away in an instant.

Aniah Ferguson, arrested for leading the brawl at the Flatbush McDonald’s

As a person who has witnessed, participated, been harmed by teen violence, and works with teens in varying capacities as an adult, I know too well not to knee-jerk react. I often ask people in workshops to think about a baby picture, and then juxtapose that picture with the mug shot of that baby that is now a teen that is perp walked on our television. What happened to that baby in the hyphenated period between infancy and adolescence that conditioned that her to earn that guilt-inferred mug shot?

Eighteen years after the violent murder of the Notorious BIG people of all social-economic strata commemorate and romanticize this artist who amplified violence through his lyricsand his actions. But, it was not for this that we fell in love him, but because of his ability to grow beyond his youthful past and create a more hopeful future, as expressed in one of his last songs, Sky’s the Limit.

We love people like Biggie, and even the Apostle Paul (for our Christian folks) because of their biography of redemption—a biography that is only possible because we humanize them today. We take the time to acknowledge their flaws and bad decisions were a part of their legacy of success and precedence… that their worst moments did not define our memory of them.

So I tell people to ask the harder question of why, how and what happened in the short lives of those teens that would cause them to behave in such a dangerous and unfeeling way? How can we begin the process of healing for them—the harmed, those inflicting the harm, and those witnessing the trauma?

What should we as a community be doing besides displaying our bloodthirsty desire for more violence—the violence on incarceration? Advocates from around the country under the hash tag #WhyWeCantWait have been imploring all of us from President Obama to religious leaders to pay more attention to the condition of our young Black girls. Will this YouTube video from a McDonald’s in Brooklyn get everyone to finally pay attention?

Undoubtedly people will say that I am being too easy on these girls, that I am not being honest enough about the sickening culture of young people today. My response to those people is that the moment we no longer see the humanity in our young is the moment our young no longer see the humanity in themselves.

The problem and solution does not rest in looking through solely a contemporary lens, but in uncovering the legacy of violence that those teens have learned… from us, because according to rapper, Kendrick Lamar, “this orphanage we call a ghetto is quite a routine.”

The only thing new about this latest occurrence of youth violence is that they have found a better way to amplify their desensitization to violence—the cell phone. ​

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