By Clifford F. Buttram Jr.
Special to Frost Illustrated
My name is Cliff and I happen to be a Fort Wayne transplant from Detroit and Washington, D.C. Although I’ve only been here for two years, I am troubled by the level of violence in our community and why such a city of small population cannot effectively deal with these issues. Obviously, Detroit and D.C. are not Fort Wayne, but in fact, our 2013 murder rate to date (in population comparison) is close. This is nonsensical and an unfolding and seemingly unending tragedy for the black community.
One of my personal top five favorite movies is “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Made in 1962 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and nominated for Best Picture and awarded the Best Actor Award, the movie is an American classic about truth, justice and a man who defied his community by defending a black man in 1930s Alabama. The movie is honored as one of America’s most culturally affective and significant films.
In the movie, there is a scene (entitled the “Lynch Mob”) where Gregory Peck (Atticus Finch) stands in front of the jail to defend his client from the community who wants to kill him before the trial begins. The scene has multiple levels of meaning. However, to place it in the context of the incomprehensible murder rates of our black men in Fort Wayne, I will attempt to clarify:
Whenever we state that an action or reaction to an event or occurrence does not make sense, we are actually stating the exact opposite: it makes perfect sense. How does a community the size of Fort Wayne allow such wanton violence and death among its youth (specifically black youth) and fail to either stem it or deal with it concretely and forthrightly? Makes no sense, right? Wrong! It makes perfect sense because our community has become numb and, in some respects, immune and dispassionate to and about the violence. The front page news and television news casting of the violence has become rote and if the violence does not affect you or your family, then it doesn’t really matter. Really?
What type of community allows this to continue? Where is the unity within our community? How does a 23-year-old man with a three-year-old daughter become the victim of an assassination in front of his mother’s house and no one knows (or cares) about it? My friends, these are not rhetorical questions, but they appear to be unanswerable.
In the movie scene, Peck artfully and decisively informs the community elders that there will be no violence that night. Why? Because he elected to stand guard against the evils of his community and faced them straight on. The elders left, violence was averted, and an element of respect by these elders was given to Peck’s character. Who among us within the Fort Wayne community will stand against the evils of our community?
We know that guns, gangs and drugs exist in our city, but we have failed to—at least adequately in my opinion—confront these challenges. We turn from this emotional and troublesome issue because it is always far easier to maintain a status quo level of thinking and commitment than it is to change a course. Changing courses involves traveling down roads which are unfamiliar and in territory where unseen dangers lurk or personal fears reside. Fort Wayne, if we do not change the course of our community, the territory we’re entering will consume our youth, fragment us further, and acknowledge the myth that we simply do not care.
Like us all, I have some personal skin in the game in regards to our young, black men. I have a soon to be 22-year-old son (my only son) who lives in metro Detroit and works in the medical field while going to school to be an emergency medical technician. I worry about him more than I am able to express my incessant and looming fear to him—not because he is living a dangerous or violence prone life, but because danger and violence can take him from me in an instant. I honestly don’t know if I could or would survive the loss of my son. I simply cannot fathom the depth of pain of a parent losing a young man of 23 years of age as one of our community parents did last week. My heart and soul aches for the parents who have lost their children to street violence here in Fort Wayne. Will my son make it to 25? Will your son or grandson make it? If you’re not worried about or even thinking about this question, you have a fundamental problem with the sanctity and respect for life.
Take a minute and think about how Dr. King, or Malcolm, or Medger Evers, or even Charles Redd would think of the hard work, blood, sweat and tears our predecessors endured in past years for African Americans. Was it all for naught? Why do we kill each other? Why are we allowing our black youth to be assassinated? Where is the outrage? Our community is small enough where citizens can and must make a difference. Our village is in pain, and in some respects, a dire situation.
We must demand additional accountability from our police department, our elected district, city and county officials, and our church communities. However, and most importantly, before we seek these remedies, we must account for our own actions (or inactions) in regards to our children… and the children of their children… and the children of our neighbors….. We either stem this madness as a community or our community will succumb to it…..
Dr. Clifford F. Buttram Jr. is a retired U.S. Army officer with more than 20 years of leadership and management experience in organizational development, communication, behavior, and visioning. He has taught and led in a variety of college environments including serving as a professor of Military Science and Leadership at Eastern Michigan University, an Army ROTC regional marketing liaison at the University of Michigan, dean of Academic Affairs at ITT Technical Institute in Fort Wayne and South Bend, and campus director at National College in Fort Wayne. Dr. Buttram is active throughout the community including serving in communications for the MLK Club Inc. of Fort Wayne and as a lecturer at the Three Rivers Institute of Afrikan Art & Culture.