Silence is Violence

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Public Safety Experiences

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Where's Lance?

Date: Thu, Apr. 03, 2008 This is an excerpt from my blog,

I'd like to see Silence is Violence help raise awareness about our community apathy in regards to young black men killing each other.

Where's Lance?

"Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee" John Donne

Far too often lately, I've been witness to discussions among community activists and neighborhood advocates decrying their boredom, or lack of interest with the crime problem in "other areas." First off, it's quite clearly coded racist talk, it's not our problem, it's "theirs." The presupposition that these issues are isolated to one community is faulty, as any mid-upper class victim of violent crime can attest. And the silent assent to the killing off of a whole generation of young black men is disturbing, and has caused me to question my participation in these civic groups who view the success of an area through such a gentrified lens, or at least fail to recognize how each segment of our population makes this great city the place we relish.

Hearing this talk just hours after learning of Lance's murder made me dangerous company on Friday afternoon. I feel unable to hold my tongue, and my emotions are bubbling close to the surface. I know I'm not alone in struggling with this. During my daily blog reads, I learned that this has affected a friend whom I didn't work with professionally. She knew Lance too. I wonder how many others were crying in their offices on Friday, like Shokufeh and I? Did Lance know how many of us were in his corner?

Quite honestly, I'm feeling devastated. I heard the news of the murder on Frenchman on Wednesday night, and shrugged it off, like all us New Orleanians have become adept at doing. Shamefully, it is the knowledge of this same variety of "street justice" that gave me comfort after Kevin was held up at gunpoint by a man who went on to murder another. I slept better months later, thinking that "the guy who held up Kevin was probably killed. That's just the way things work around here."

Knowing one of the young black men who was killed has made it all harder to bear. The lack of media attention around this is painful. The intimate knowledge of the amazing potential of this individual calls me to question all the systems that might have failed him. On a personal level, I feel a sense of failure. We were often reminded in our daily work that our job was not to "save" these children, but make them less vulnerable. Yet every news report, and wanted ad, and obit that didn't feature one of my former students somehow left me feeling vindicated. "No, those aren't our kids. Our kids are trying to get through high school, succeeding in college, holding down a job." That was my inner I wonder if we could have done something more. But the truth is we certainly did our best. Lance graduated with a toothy smile, after three challenging years. I know any other school would have kicked him out long ago. But Doc's psychology degree and infinite patience helped us look at Lance as a person, and because of that, we learned to appreciate all of him, and were invested in helping him through his personal struggles. And he worked so hard to get there. It was all a leap of faith. Lance believed in his future, and so did we. What a loss for us all.

My friend Laura and I processed this together Friday night. She wrote a piece for the Times Picayune op-ed the next day. She doubts it will be published because of the length, but I find it thought provoking and worth sharing.

Thanks, Laura, for your poignent words, and for letting me share them:

"I didn’t really take notice when the news reportedyet another unnamed black young man gunned down in the7th ward. The narrative is so familiar that I havebegun to tune it out. It was Frenchman Street, butwith a sigh of relief and recognition, I noted thatthe 1600 block is on the “other” side of St. Claude. But then an email came from a former colleague. Lance Zarders, one of our former students, had been fatally shot. How could that be? If a young high school student had been murdered, surely I would have seen iton the news. Wouldn’t such a crime have made the front page?

Only a few months ago the death ofMadeleine Prevost had garnered such attention. A student at Lusher; she had a promising future. What ashock that her young life was cut short so tragically because she took drugs and overdosed. Ever sincethen, the public has received regular updates in thenews related to the arrest of the criminals that“forced” Maddie to make the tragic choice that tookher life. So what of Lance, a student at Math & Science HighSchool, just down the road from Lusher, tragically gunned down on the street, murdered in cold blood? What does Lance merit? Not much apparently, just a small piece inside the Metro section (page 4) by an unnamed staff reporter. Nothing about his life, his hopes and dreams, his troubles, all his promise cutshort. Just “victim identified… 17 year old shot to death.” No outrage, no march to city hall. Just silence, maybe even boredom.

I too was ready to let this most recent death just wash over me, like so many others. But this time I can’t. Lance was my student. He was a part of my life for three years. When I watched him walk across the stage at his 8th grade promotional exercise I thought,okay, he’s had some rough patches, but he’s going to make it. He wouldn’t just end up another statistic. What if every single death in this city was treatedwith the same attention and energy as that of HelenHill and Maddie Prevost? Maybe then we couldn’t allow ourselves to be lulled into the complacent “not in myback yard” mentality that allows us to keep trudging our daily rounds without breaking into tears. To rationalize away the violence. But Lance Zarders was a real person. He was my student and his life wasworth more than a 4 inch square box in the Metro."