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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014
South Tampa News

O'Neill: Nation needs to confront black-on-black crime


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Some things need to be said.

And some things only a black person can say in order for the remarks to have maximum impact. Exhibit A: Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick's comments that put the understandable outrage over the George Zimmerman acquittal into an uncomfortably relevant context that is more than racial profiling.

At the end of a recent City Council meeting, Reddick weighed in. He contrasted the black community's visceral reaction to the killing of Trayvon Martin with its passive response to the murder of Horsley Shorter, the black Family Dollar store manager and retired Army veteran. A 23-year-old black man with a felony-riddled rap sheet has been arrested and charged with Shorter's murder.

"I want to say today I'm equally outraged," stated Reddick. "Where is the outrage in this community about this black-on-black crime? This (Shorter) family deserves justice, just as the Trayvon Martin family deserves justice. We must be prepared to explore this issue.

"No one is marching for black-on-black crime," Reddick added passionately. "That is the problem in our community. No one is speaking about black-on-black crime, and that's the problem. ... We need to make some changes, and I hope we start soon."

What Reddick said in public at a city council meeting is the sort of thing that usually stays within the black community, which is used to circling the racial wagons to suppress the spread of minority-stereotypes. As in, "Don't give the other side ammunition. It's our business."

Only we're all in this together. There can't be "other sides" when people are killing each other, hues or ethnicities notwithstanding. Literal life and death is everybody's business, and there's no room for cherry picking outrages based on racial dynamics and historic grievances.

No, we're certainly not "post-racial" America just because we have an African-American president. But the festering problem of black-on-black crime goes largely unaddressed and metastasizes. It's not just East Tampa and Chicago. By giving voice to reality, Reddick underscores the critical "need to make some changes."

Before that happens, however, this country will finally have to have that serious race conversation that we only talk about having. And to have any effect, everything will have to be on the table.

That includes Founding Fathers' slaves; degrading Jim Crow laws; banks' red-lining practices; minority-voter-suppression efforts as political strategy; and blatant racial profiling. But it would also include black crime rates; a thuggish, misogynistic rap culture; out-of-wedlock birth rates; the perception of academic achievement as "acting white"; and rationales for profiling. It's all got to be there. If Jesse Jackson is sitting in, then so is Pat Buchanan.

We'll give the (next to) last word to Michael Nutter, the black Democratic mayor of my home city of Philadelphia.

"Why is it that African-American males are so disproportionately both the victims and the perpetrators of violence, more often than not against one another?" he asks. "In Philadelphia ... 75 percent of our homicide victims are black men. About 80 percent of the people we arrest for homicide are black men. Black men across the country are killing one another, yet that epidemic is rarely part of any national conversation."

Shame on us if we, as a society, ignore the candid acknowledgements and urgent calls for change from credible, credentialed insiders such as Frank Reddick and Michael Nutter.

Straz blesses tower

It had been tweaked and retweaked. Concessions, incentives and a $1 million gift had been proffered. Finally, the trustees of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts - including the influential likes of Frank Morsani - responded with a vote of confidence and gave their blessing to the proposed construction of the 36-story apartment tower on an acre next to the Straz. The Center's president, Judy Lisi, called it a "significant mandate in favor of the project."

While city council members still have to weigh in - and they surely don't want to be seen as a rubber stamp - the Straz vote was critical. No one is more impacted. That's why the city's salesman-in-chief, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, personally played the role of Straz closer.

I asked him how frequently he attended such gatherings.

"Not often, to be sure," he chuckled. "But to me, it was that important for me to be there. I'm paying respect to the Straz and members of the board. We've gone down this road with them. We have a significant investment in that building. ... And they needed to hear from me directly on the larger vision."

After reiterating what the developers had done in addressing traffic concerns and restoring the elevated pedestrian bridge, Buckhorn played to his redevelopment passion.

"Downtowns," he explained, "are all about density and the experience at the pedestrian level. We want to make downtown function 18 hours a day. We want to attract the best and brightest. This is a key piece of that. And I will be just as passionate about Riverfront Park. These are all key pieces - and it doesn't happen if I stay at City Hall and do nothing."

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