Whenever I hear from our staff that there is a homicide in our area, I just hope and pray it is not someone I know.
It is tragic when a person is killed. The impact resonates forever for the victim’s family as well as for the family of the accused.
On Nov. 15, I was headed to Akron with my wife and our friends from church for dinner at the Spaghetti Warehouse and then to the Tangiers to see jazz sax man Euge Groove perform.
Our enjoyment was quickly turned to sorrow, however.
We learned through a cellphone call that Elliott Stewart and his brother, Derrick, had been shot on Youngstown’s South Side.
My first prayer was that they both had survived. I would come to learn, however, that Elliott would become another homicide victim.
I have known Elliott and Derrick since they were little boys. We attended the same church. Their mother, Sandra, was a student of mine when I was a teacher at the former Lincoln Middle School. I used to play pickup basketball games with Elliott and Derrick’s dad, Willie Davenport, at the Sacred Heart School gym on the East Side. The Stewarts’ grandmother, Maria E. Crosby, and I attend the same church and have been friends for years.
Elliott was 25 when he died, the same age as my son, Kevin.
As the investigation into Elliott’s death goes forward, it appears he lost his life because the accused shooter believed Elliott had disrespected his girlfriend. Anyone who knew Elliott would know he would never disrespect any woman.
No, this was just another senseless crime committed by one black man against another black man.
I have written in this column space that black-on-black crime must end, and only black folks can end this scourge in our community.
Essence magazine has been carrying a series called “Guns Down.” In its issue this month, it looks at what the city of New Orleans is doing to try to curb gun violence among black men in that city.
The magazine quotes statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta that show, nationwide, homicide is the leading cause of death among black men age 15 to 19. Young black males are eight times as likely as their white counterparts to be killed by a gun.
The reasons for many of these deaths are so slight, writes Jeannine Amber, the magazine’s senior writer. The infractions range from someone stepping on someone’s sneakers, to someone looking at another person’s girlfriend, to money, often minor amounts, and, of course, drugs, she writes.
Elliott’s life was taken from him because he had the audacity to ask two women arguing in front of the business he ran with his brother to take their disagreement elsewhere.
Most of the homicide victims in Youngstown and in Warren this year are young black men.
According to the magazine article, New Orleans has launched a program that perhaps Youngstown might try to use.
The city, through its mayor Mitch Landrieu, started a comprehensive campaign aimed at reducing gun violence. New Orleans has suffered a murder rate seven to 10 times higher than the national average. It currently has one of the highest per-capita homicide rates in the nation, the magazine article says.
The effort centers on the Group Violence Reduction Strategy, or GVRS, a “far-reaching multidepartment effort that focuses on identifying through police intelligence and arrest records the young men most likely to be involved in gun violence, and calling them in for a meeting with the most powerful men and women in local, state and federal law enforcement,” Amber writes.
The young men are told the violence must stop, and they are offered an array of social services. They are then given a choice: Either change your behavior of face the consequences.
According to the article, in the year since GVRS went into effect, which was 2012, there has been a 25 percent decrease in murders compared with the same period the year before.
The magazine article goes on to talk about similar violence-prevention programs in Oakland, Calif., and Boston, and it focuses on 25-year-old Michael Davis, a former New Orleans drug dealer, and how he is turning his life around in the GVRS program.
Youngstown does have its Community Initiative to Reduce Violence program being ably run by Guy Burney, and more young black men need to check out that program. The program’s goal is to give younger people an alternative to crime.
This week, the city of Warren started its Safe Neighborhoods program to try to reduce violence in that city. Those who violate the law are given the chance to have access to job training, alcohol and drug rehabilitation and other social services to help turn their lives around.
The frustration level, however, is that some of today’s young black men no longer place value on human life.
The days of fistfights to resolve disputes is long gone. The days of respect for other human beings is ebbing.
I wrote a column a few years ago about four young black men, friends since their youth, holding one another accountable and responsible for their actions. More of that initiative needs to be done if the senseless slayings are to be reduced.