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Another Voice: Answers prove elusive as bloodshed scars our cities

By Wesley Carter

Lately we've been hearing a lot about the shootings on the East Side in which someone is injured, or in the most unfortunate of circumstances, someone loses his or her life. These scenes, however, are being duplicated in cities and towns all over the country.

When shootings occur in any town, they bring on the usual debates and discussions about how society should best respond. But those debates are usually fraught with conflicts over who should or should not be allowed to bear arms, who's right, who's wrong, and who should win: Those with the money and the greater influence usually do. In the meantime, the killings go on, and given our present political and social climate, they are likely to continue.

There are times when I have to visit the East Side, but rarely do I return to the neighborhood that I called home or the schools I attended. I did so recently because I wanted to see if my old house was still standing. It's not. Nature had regained in weeds what man once destroyed in the name of progress. I sat in front of that empty space and wondered if the city's past could serve as a clue to where we are today.

As a child, I came early to the "City of Good Neighbors," having hailed from Philadelphia, where a kid's safe passage was secured by a jacket embossed with "The Vendettas, Skull and Cross Bones." Having had enough, my mother decided to shuffle off to Buffalo, where adults were working, homes were maintained, and her child's safe passage was secured.

With few exceptions, the schools were integrated. Classrooms were led by intelligent teachers who, in consultation with parents, were able to get their jobs done: the job of education, learning, and personal character development.

Sometimes I think about that education and what we ask of our disadvantaged youths today. We ask them to believe and they do, but only in what they are able see around them. A Rembrandt on the wall and parents working is one thing; guns, dealers and no parents working is quite another.

It's typical to ask what happened here, and in Detroit, Flint and Philadelphia, and the answer is quite simple: America happened. The decline of family happened.

We must make sense of the shootings so widespread in our society today. Success is what we strive for, and that striving is generally preceded by positive incentives. But what incentives, I must ask, can one possibly offer to those whose safety as well as dignity lie in the possession of a powerful weapon?

A Los Angeles reporter understood that problem well when he interviewed the members of the infamous Bloods gang. When asked if they all had guns, one member pulled a gun from his belt. When asked why, the response was simple: "You better not be caught without one." America's new family?

Wesley Carter is an adjunct professor of African-American studies at the University at Buffalo.

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