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The Cruelest of Summers

Something has gone terribly wrong. Or, perhaps in some cruel way, something has gone right. Last week, while most of the black internet was deep in an oil sheen-induced haze caused by appearances and speeches by the Obamas, our favorite celebrities, another black youth was murdered.

This wasn’t your typical, anonymous shooting, though. Nor was it another honor roll student at the wrong place at the wrong time scenario that warrants a local news crew or two. No. Rather, 17-year-old, Joseph “Lil JoJo” Coleman was gunned down while riding a bike. Coleman was an aspiring rapper who allegedly had beef with another Chicago rapper, 18-year-old Chief Keef, whose song “That Shit I Don’t Like” not only made him a Youtube sensation and the muse for a Kanye remix, but got him a record deal with Interscope Records.

Keef is now being investigated by the Chicago Police Department for his potential involvement in the death of Coleman. Why? Because after Keef got word that Coleman had been killed, he allegedly posted a message mocking the death on Twitter.

Redeye, a free, small daily tabloid known for covering pop culture and other Chicago news with a rather light hand, has started tracking Chicago homicides. Most of those murders are of black youth. When a periodical known for daily sudoku and Twilight co-star updates is tracking city murders, we have a problem.

Although the news and tracking of black death, both literally and figuratively, is nothing new to this culture, this latest swell in numbers feels incredibly discouraging and mind blowing to me. Perhaps it’s because I live in Chicago. Maybe it’s the role I play as a blogger for this site. Whatever it is, these murders both in Chicago and throughout the nation are part of an alarming epidemic that not only speaks to the crumbling of a nation–no matter what hyperbolic articulations of exceptionalism we heard last week–and our perpetual ignoring of black youth.

I want to resist my impulse to say that JoJo’s death is another example of how black bodies have no use if they are not somehow making money for the state, either in jail or in the school-to-prison pipeline desks that fill our classrooms. (Having worked for a school I have heard how easily administrators translate bodies in desks to dollars.) But there will be plenty of time for logic and theory and studies. This convergence of violence and technology and music is mapped onto people, human beings whose lives very few of us know and understand. I live in the same city, but my world is incredibly different.

Whether or not JoJo’s death and the many others are just the effects of American capitalism, these murders demand more than just shrugs or SMH hashtags. That is, if we truly care about the deaths of black youth.

Have we moved beyond marches and voting to enact systemic change? I think so. Such acts seem to assuage our righteous indignation more than they actually save lives. There are myriad reasons we can use to explain the epidemic: the music, a culture of violence embedded within a culture of violence (drones and drive-bys are equally anonymous), lack of resources. But what excuses will we use today for employing the same tactics to justify doing nothing or feeding our savior complexes?

There is black death in my city and soon it will be in yours, if it isn’t already. The deaths of those we do know and many we don’t. Black youth are dying in vain. And their deaths will continue to mean nothing as long as we continue to ignore those things that aren’t on our doorstep, as long as we refuse to see that our lives as we currently live them are contingent upon their death.

How many more youth have to die before we willingly sacrifice so that they may live, too? If not JoJo and those before him, and sadly, after him, then who?


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