A version of this article appeared on print in our November 2016 issue.
Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. McKenzie Elliott. Terence Crutcher. Are these names familiar? USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, the three largest newspapers in the United States, only covered the deaths of three of these people.
Elliott, a three year old African-American girl living in north Baltimore, was killed by a stray bullet after a gang-related drive-by shooting took place in 2014. Small, peaceful vigils were held following her sudden passing, and the affected public begged for an end to the violence that plagued their neighborhoods. Local news stations and The Baltimore Sun were the only media sources to cover her death. Elliott’s killer was never found.
Police officers shot Sterling, Castile, and Crutcher, while a nameless and faceless Baltimore resident shot Elliott. Only those shot by police officers received national media coverage even though Elliot’s death was equally unjust. The lack of nationwide outcry inspired by the death of Elliott is a result of a lack of national media coverage. This deficit of attention needs to be addressed.
The ever growing political movement, Black Lives Matter, formed following the police involved shootings of numerous Black citizens. The group protests unwarranted Black deaths by police, and rightfully so. The media reacts similarly whenever this occurs, pumping out articles in anger and disappointment, shining a light on an unnecessary killing. The public echoes.
Major media outlets failed to put McKenzie Elliott in such a spotlight. A Baltimore avenue was named after her in a posthumous honor, but no rallying cry ever reached beyond the city limits. So I’m left to wonder, why don’t all Black lives matter to us?
It is important to broadcast the groundless brutality exercised in some police involved shootings. Though most police officers do the right thing day in and day out, police unaccountability is a self-perpetuating issue, with officers given a slap on the wrist for an objective misuse of force, and the remaining officers observing that such behavior goes unpunished.
But, of course, it is not only police who shoot people. It is a moral crime to turn our heads from the violence and destruction that takes place in inner city neighborhoods like north Baltimore. It is a violation of humanitarian ideals to remain ignorant of Elliott and others like her who have lost their lives in the careless savagery of drug and gang culture.
Many argue that police should protect and serve citizens, not kill them, and that is why their errors receive incredible amounts of attention. In my opinion, regular citizens should not be killing each other either, especially not at the current rate.
164 Blacks have been murdered so far in 2016 in the city of Baltimore alone, 320 Blacks total in 2015.
How these deaths have slipped by public awareness is beyond me. Perhaps it is hyperbolic statements made by public figures such as Colin Kaepernick that have altered our perceptions of what is truly threatening to Black lives.
Earlier this year, Kaepernick said, “there are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder”. Kaepernick is talking about police who have committed blatant murder and avoided retribution. In some cases, his words are true. However it is statistically ridiculous to claim that the appalling amount of “bodies in the street” is the sole result of law enforcement racism and police brutality.
It is the cumulative fault of the failed war on drugs and other ineffective pieces of legislation (see: the 100 to 1 rule). It is the fault of Republican and Democratic politicians’ toxic, misguided efforts to address crime in the inner cities. It is the fault of the media and the public for disregarding the people who have been left behind in what David Simon, creator of The Wire, calls the “other America”: an America without an economy, without any plausible future for its inhabitants.
Well-meaning denizens of this “other America” are helpless. They are afraid to report crime, as being a snitch can be an immediate death sentence. In 2002, Angela Dawson, an East Baltimore mother, reported crime in her neighborhood to local police. Her house was subsequently firebombed. Angela, her husband Carnell, and all five of their children died. Investigators learned that the crime was committed by neighbor Darrell Brooks, who admitted that the attack was in retaliation for Angela’s pleads to law enforcement.
The lethality of these neighborhoods, of the “other America”, is so high, that one in every three people shot in Baltimore, Washington DC, and New Orleans die. From its analysis of crime and shooting statistics, The Baltimore Sun concluded that guns with higher calibers and larger magazines are becoming more popular. More people are dying of gunshots to the head.
It is a grim scene in those inner cities. The truly disgraceful thing, however, is how Blacks trapped in an impoverished culture of violence and drugs receive only a fraction of the media and public’s attention, if any at all.
I cannot provide a revival to the war torn neighborhoods of Baltimore, DC, Detroit, or anywhere. I cannot offer a solution to the issues that plague ignored Black communities, I can only draw attention to them. As a community that lives in the America that has its own economy, which rallies behind victims of unjust lethal force, we must look at our inner cities and acknowledge and fight for those like McKenzie Elliott, who died quietly in a forgotten America.