When I first heard about the massacre in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, that left five dead and three wounded, I was mortified, saddened and dejected. This type of violence is something that you wouldn’t wish on any community, and my heart goes out to the victims and their families. It’s going to take a concerted effort from all of us to band together through various measures to ensure that something this horrific never happens again.
Or so I thought.
Apparently we’ve been thinking way too deep about the issue of gun violence by blacks against blacks. Now former WTAE-TV anchorperson Wendy Bell, in all her infinite wisdom, has cracked the code to black-on-black violence in this country.
In a now-deleted Facebook post, Bell gets her criminal profiler on and makes assumptions about the killers such as them being black men, likely teens or in their early 20s, having multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs. She then goes into an anecdote about dining in a restaurant shortly after the murders and seeing a young black waiter working incredibly hard, which inspired her to compliment his manager on his performance. She ends her post by saying that those kind words potentially changed the course of this man’s life, and that in general being nice to someone who is African-American could make them reconsider a life of crime.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely not a bad thing to be nicer to people. But you have to be one incredibly delusional person to think that smiling awkwardly at your black waiter is going to quell the violence and bloodshed of that waiter’s respective community. The world doesn’t work that way. You can’t wish something into existence. Stopping gun violence in these communities is going to take real hard, salient work. It’s going to take the type of work those telling us we’re all one human race have proven numerous times they are unwilling to put in.
One way they show this is through whom they choose to support at the ballot box. More often than not, they support candidates who implement laws that are ultimately harmful to urban communities. For example, candidates who rack up landslide wins in suburban areas end up making policies such as disproportionately harsh drug sentencing laws, truth-in-sentencing and mandatory minimum sentencing laws. These are things that unnecessarily break up families even more and further limit opportunities for offenders once they leave prison.
I understand that people realize how deep these policies cut into the heart of urban America. But they at least have to understand how bad statements like Bell’s look, especially to someone who sees the impact of those policies directly on a daily basis. The problems that Bell is attempting to explain away are so complex and far-reaching. When you consider the fact that these are problems that people like Bell have a hand in perpetuating because of the policies and candidates they support, Bell’s naive and condescending Facebook post comes off not as racist, but as offensive and highly ignorant.
The people in these communities know what they need. They know the problems firsthand. No one is trying to sweep them under the rug, and no matter what people outside of these communities think, we are not content with living like this. People want more opportunities, and they take jobs like the waiter job at the restaurant Bell dined at to try to make it out of these places, or at least to make their communities better. The problem with Bell’s statement wasn’t with the profile she laid out at the beginning of her post. The problem is that her post was selfish in a lot of ways. She assumed she knew what the problems were, while showing that she had zero clue what the actual problems were in these communities. When you do this, you’re not really listening to the people in these communities. People who scream “all lives matter” and write posts like the one Bell wrote last week are lying to themselves to justify their blatant inaction on issues they supposedly care about.
One final problem that people have with what Bell wrote was her lack of awareness of who she was actually talking about. She starts off her screed with blanket statements, speaking of black men like we are all just genetically prone to violence. The ones doing the violent crimes and killings aren’t the ones taking her order at Applebee’s. The ones that she is referring to are likely the people who applied to Applebee’s but didn’t get an interview because most companies frown upon hiring convicted felons even if they’ve paid their debt to society.
Of course, if you’re suggesting solutions to problems that you know little to nothing about, they’re gonna come out half-assed and ignorant. That’s how Bell’s entire post came off to a lot of people. If you really wanted to help make a change in these communities, talk to your friends, your neighbors, most importantly your legislators about how the policies and candidates that they support ravage these communities, thereby leading to more crime and less opportunities. Talk to them about making efforts to invest in these schools and communities, instead of depriving them of the things they need to be successful. If more of those sorts of conversations started to happen, it would at least to me be worth 1,000 awkward smiles and a few hundred more well-meaning, yet patronizing words of encouragement.