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Philadelphia mayor assails teen violence in black communities; Calls out parents for doing poor job

The painful images and graphic stories of repeated violent assaults and vandalism by mobs of black teenagers had gotten to be too much for Mayor Michael Nutter.

As an elected official and a "proud black man" in the nation's fifth-largest city, Nutter felt he had to go a step beyond ordering a law enforcement crackdown.

So he channeled the spirit of another straight-talking Philadelphian: Bill Cosby. Nutter took to the pulpit at his church last weekend and gave an impassioned, old-fashioned talking-to directed at the swarms of teens who have been using social networks to arrange violent sprees downtown, injuring victims and damaging property. Moreover, he called out parents for not doing a better job raising their children.

"You've damaged yourself, you've damaged another person, you've damaged your peers and, quite honestly, you've damaged your own race," Nutter said at Mount Carmel Baptist Church.

The 54-year-old mayor, married with a teenage daughter and a grown son, called out absentee fathers and neglectful parents. He did not mince words, saying they need to be more than just a "sperm donor" or a "human ATM."

"That's part of the problem in our community," Nutter told the congregation. "Let me speak plainer: That's part of the problem in the black community. We have too many men making too many babies they don't want to take care of and then we end up dealing with your children."

It's a version of the tough-love message Cosby and others have telegraphed for years.

"I am a proud black man in this country," Nutter said in an interview with the Associated Press. "It was a message that needed to be said. It needed to be said at this time. People have had enough of this nonsense, black and white."

At a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gathering in 2004, Cosby chided the black community in a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the legal case that toppled segregated education.

"These people marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education and now we've got these knuckleheads walking around," Cosby said then.

"I can't even talk the way these people talk, 'Why you ain't,' 'Where you is' and I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk," the entertainer said.

Nutter's words also harkened back to a 2008 Father's Day speech by then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

"If we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit that what too many fathers also are missing -- missing from too many lives and too many homes," Obama told a church in Chicago. "They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men."

Bill Anderson, a talk show host on the black radio station WURD-AM, estimated that about 60 percent of callers commenting on Nutter's address supported him. But quite a few, Anderson said, believe Nutter simply doesn't have the community standing to make such strong remarks.

"The perception is that he is not necessarily a 'community guy.' He has been perceived as more of a business guy," Anderson said, noting that he didn't have a problem with the comments himself.

Annette John-Hall, a black columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote that the mayor crossed a line when he said, "You've damaged your own race."

"We can deal with the public tongue-lashing, even if his intended targets were nowhere to be found among the law-abiding churchgoers," John-Hall wrote. "But what really bothered me was when Nutter fired the age-old salvo that has historically evoked head-hanging shame among black folks."

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