Fatal shooting shows chasm that divides us

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 20, 2009

Somebody stop the madness roller coaster because I want to get off. I’m dizzy from the ride of another young life extinguished so needlessly and senselessly.
Heads shook from side to side in mutual disgust and anger a couple of years ago as we mourned a Treasure. Last week, heads shook in a different direction, more north and south, as some felt the stars had aligned, karma stood up and repercussive justice had been delivered in the death of Trey Chambers.
Really? Are we now so callous we are celebrating tragic endings through the continued loss of young lives? I closely followed the comments online at www.salisburypost.com related to this story and found many of them void of compassion and filled with a disturbing tone of relief and happiness that the streets were now free of another misguided soul. Even while grocery shopping the morning after the tragic incident, I watched employees who were derelict in their duties because they were so distracted by engaging in ignorant analysis.
One derisive comment denigrated an entire community by blaming the street where the incident occurred as the catalyst for this incident and the reason for all the other nefarious activities occurring there. The comment’s inanity does not lessen its deeper negative impact and only serves to widen the chasm that is our collective cultural society. As proven in other high profile crimes in our city, a zip code does not free you from the far-reaching grips of crime and the immoral, misguided actions of others. It is easy to place your head on a swivel, cast a downward eye and offer an inaudible tsk, tsk when you are not physically or emotionally invested in the community or its people.
Up until five years ago, I lived a lifetime less than two blocks from the crime scene. I fondly recall walking the same streets that were recently littered with police vehicles, rescue workers and curious onlookers. During my formative years, it was more than an area where youthful dreams were deferred and today often go unrecognized. It was before people drove through to see landmarks made famous by the local evening news. It was before it became hip to give the area nicknames like Little Baghdad or Little Saigon. It was before some people romanticized the allure of having a “Gangsta Nation” crammed into a respected community. It was before crime would eventually rob hardworking and decent people of their right to live safely and freely. It was before kids threw up gang signs and physically defended a piece of asphalt even though they neither owned property there or paid taxes. It was before people outside of the neighborhood used it to scare their kids straight by saying, “See, you could turn out like those people that live over there.” By making areas like Horah Street seem so far away, it makes it easier to appreciate a privileged life, and easier to live with the guilt associated with personal inaction. I can recall when Horah Street and the entire West End were not synonymous with negativity.
I won’t criticize an individual family or subscribe to the belief that the police were happy to have one less thug on the street, as one comment read. I’m sure Chief Wilhelm and his officers did not pop the cork on the bubbly or decorate the station with streamers when they got the call. They’re not that shallow or singularly focused. One person, family or street is not responsible for the drug and gang problems here in Salisbury. It’s bigger than that. This concern has been a focal point in the community long before tackling the gang problem became chic.
What is more troubling for me is the numbers. According to the N.C. Department of Correction’s Web site, there are 3,211 kids between the ages of 13 and 21 who are serving time for committing “big boy” crimes ó aka felonies. It was even more disheartening to read that 2,207 of that number are young black males, which brings it full circle back to the Chambers sad saga and the need for more action.
There is a crisis in our youth community not bound by color or zip code. I don’t have the magic answer, but rehabilitation is not a realistic alternative. It just doesn’t work. What will work is addressing the problem at the source and in the communities where the problems occur. At a young, impressionable age, children need alternatives, opportunities and access instead of idleness, pity, patronization and ultimately condemnation. There is a difference between giving people what they need rather offering them what you think they should have. If this crazy ride doesn’t end soon, the roll call will continue. Treasure … Trey…
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Kenneth Hardins lives in Salisbury.