(BALTIMORE – June 20, 2016) – I am grateful, pleased and honored to report that Father’s Day is alive and well in Black America.
Prior to Father’s Day, I had the initial intention of writing a piece dedicated to fathers who are not in their children’s lives. However, there was some hesitation. There was some doubt I had as to whether or not the piece would garner the appropriate attention. I was concerned that the purpose would be misconstrued, misinterpreted. At the end of the day, I found that the best thing to do was speak life. So, here is the message that ultimately came to me.
Yes, black fathers are absent like never before. Many are in prison. And considering that America has the highest rate of incarceration of any nation in the world – starring black men, it is easily fathomable why some 80-85% of black family households are headed by single black women. While black people are 13% or so of the US population, black men alone comprise a whopping 44% of the US prison population. Something is fundamentally wrong with this equation. To add further insult to the injury this nation has perpetually placed around the neck of Black America, black women are the fastest growing prison demographic.
Now, America only has 5% of the world’s population. At the same time, this nation incarcerates approximately 25% of the inmates on planet earth. To his credit, Pres. Barack Obama may be the first President ever to place due attention on this issue. Last year, he visited a federal prison in Oklahoma to speak with inmates.
I’ll never forget seeing a photograph of the President visiting with some inmates. I have never seen that before in my life: A US President sitting with men behind the walls. While I have not agreed with every decision Pres. Obama has made, his attention on mass incarceration is liberating and encouraging.
I personally want to let him know that this action is highly appreciated in the black community.
Never before has the number of inmates been so high. Similarly, never before has our nation’s fascination with incarcerating people ever received the attention given by Pres. Obama.
For the record, www.BMORENEWS.com has focused on 5 (five) key items since our inception in 2002: black business; public education (especially in majority black jurisdictions); affordable housing; universal access to health care; and the disparity of mass incarceration among African Americans.
By all indications, somebody at the White House is paying attention. While Pres. Obama has received his fair share of criticism in his 7 plus years in the White House, he has not only turned the economy around and improved America’s reputation abroad, he has also maintained a particular focus on some key domestic issues like mass incarceration. I think Obamacare has done a world of good already and I think that, quite possibly, the prison industrial complex is finally getting the necessary attention it deserves.
For example, when former Pres. Bill Clinton admitted to an NAACP audience last July that his signing of the omnibus crime bill of 1994 was indeed a huge mistake, it legitimized the concerns that many of us have had for years that the “3 strikes” component terribly disaffected the trajectory for thousands of black inmates and their families.
In 1980, there were approximately a half-million inmates. Today, there are about 2.3 million. Again, black men are 44% of that number with black women the fastest rising population. The impact of this over-incarceration can be witnessed on the streets of Baltimore and other urban centers as we speak.
Let’s look at this dirt bike episode that is currently playing out on Baltimore streets. If you ask me, I’ll tell you that a critical factor in all of the dirt bike riding is that many of these young men do not have a man in their life to help deter them from engaging in such reckless behavior.
Sure, riding can be fun. However, the reality is that there is no accountability. The tragic and untimely killing of 24-year-old Allison Blanding by way of dirt bike in Baltimore brought this point home all too well. She was killed last May and still no one has been brought to justice. She was the mother of a six-year-old.
Such a senseless death is a vivid reminder that there is something terribly wrong in the black community. Long story short, when fathers are chased away from fathering for whatever reason(s), there is a family that is void of his involvement. His presence could otherwise save a life, including his own.
Now, granted, there are those hard-core sticklers who insist that those people who find themselves adjudicated somehow deserve to be in prison. At the same time, at what point have we put an over-emphasis on being tough on crime?
If we keep incarcerating so many people, are we not ignoring the real ramifications of mass incarceration? Put differently, can we truly arrest our way back to some semblance of civility?
Look at our public schools in Baltimore. Are the students in Baltimore City Public Schools not disaffected by the high numbers of individuals from Baltimore City who find themselves in the criminal justice system?
Peer the horizon of East Baltimore. Are you telling me that a young black man from the Eastside is not negatively influenced or impacted somehow by all of the prisons he sees on a daily basis from his window?
Are you telling me that all he has to do is look beyond the Penitentiary’s walls and focus on the good – even though his father is locked up, his brother is locked up, and his best friend is locked up?
Let’s keep it real: All of this mass incarceration has been devastating to Black America. So, sure – we are glad that Pres. Clinton has realized the error of his decision. But now the question becomes, ‘What are we going to do about it?’