Friday, August 18, 2006

Todd Elliott Koger's Op-Ed Article: Hope for Pgh's 'boyz/'hood

Todd Elliott Koger has a plan: Go door-to-door, corner-to-corner, housing project-to-housing project, to help inner-city residents.

Hope for Pittsburgh's 'boyz in the 'hood

The following is an Op-Ed article written by Todd Elliott Koger and featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Bust this: Recently, with hyped intensity, the boys in the 'hood started biting the scene in gangland. That's right, you're down with it: They began copying gangsters' violent, senseless behavior. Homeboy killing homeboy -- or anyone else who happened to be in the path of their nine (9mm gun). they had the usual beefs: money owed, turf wars, OPP (other people's property -- wife, girlfriend, etc.).

But really. Is the recent burst of gunfire, and resultant bodybags, so unexpected?

The Man wants you to think that it is just a provocation associated with the misinterpretation of big-screen portrayals of the inner-city life of the black man ("Boyz N the 'Hood" and "New Jack City" especially). Even some so-called black leaders have had the gall to corroborate such foolishness. All this got the usual response from Downtown: A few street dealers were arrested and labeled midlevel drug suppliers while the TV cameras rolled. As if that were sufficient to force the illegal business elsewhere.

Right. The handful of drugs seized shouldn't have even made the evening news. Maybe the police achieved their political objective, but in reality all they did was quiet the thunder of the coming storm.

You can't expect to shun the poor and disenfranchised off to the 'hood forever. It's surprising the drive-by shootings have just arrived. You know the score in Pittsburgh: (1) bypassed by expressways and opportunity (no jobs); (2) ignored and forgotten (no respect); and (3) suffering out of sight (domestic frustration).

Maybe no one Downtown realizes how bad things can get. Maybe no one realizes that "New Jack City," although in its infancy, has arrived.

The options in the 'hood remain the same: a minimum-wage job with no benefits; unemployment, because young males here who have not paid unemployment contributions receive only three months of Thornfare; or drug dealing (for some, this brings in as much as $1,500 a week).

And on the serious tip -- that is, honestly speaking -- don't think that everyone in the drug business is making a bundle. For many, the dangerous life only provides what they would normally receive on welfare. Why do you think many black males drift from one young mother to another? Because the additional welfare checks guarantee a roof over their heads, chicken wings in their bellies and a better alternative to the dangerous life of selling drugs.

No, they're not the "cannots" the liberals describe -- healthy young brothers who lack skills to work. Some of them are college graduates. And they're definitely not the "will nots" conservatives describe -- too lazy to take existing jobs or too lazy even to try to find them. Unfortunately, the damned life of selling drugs and bearing arms (to protect the illegal hustle that removes them from poverty) is their only alternative.

Even minimum-wage jobs flipping burgers, cleaning floors or, in the case of the girls, waiting tables, are out at the mall in the suburbs. Without a hustle, many of the homeboys don't have reliable transportation to get there -- or the "dope gear" (expensive clothing) required for an interview.

In short, our city and surrounding communities are becoming killing fields. And don't think it's just an East End thing: In reality, the "New Jack" curse embraces more than race, more than even drugs. It reflects the fact that out of bigotry and fear, our own leaders leave our brothers and sisters in such desperate hopelessness that they destroy their own lives and have no respect for the humanity of anyone else.

Without working parents to set an example, realizing that success -- "getting paid" -- requires hard work and discipline is teenagers fail to see the connection between the glamour and excitement of drugs and the accessibility of a handgun.

The majority's answer is loud: more police, more death sentences, more mandatory sentences. For whatever reason, bureaucrats think only in terms of retribution, punishment and incarceration. But they'll never stop the killings by building prison cells and locking up our young.

And then there's the sellout crowd -- the tokens gone bad -- that wants us to believe that not all blacks are poor and disenfranchised, that we have a choice. But how soon do those fortunate enough to have a friend to make them a token in the Man's world forget that surrendering is their only real option for staying there?

Some believe that the way to impose structure on these undisciplined lives is through athletics -- they'll show up regularly, on time, in uniform, and train hard. The coaches can act as mentors, discussing the pressures of drugs and gangs and teaching them how to cope with school. Unfortunately, many sports leagues have relocated, like the jobs, to the suburbs.

"New Jack" is for real, Pittsburgh. Understanding it rather than trying to control it is the answer. What's needed is a trusted advocate steadfast to the challenge of canvassing the most dangerous neighborhoods -- door-to-door, corner-to-corner, housing project-to-housing project -- to redress the complaints, concerns and needs of inner-city residents. One trusted ombudsman could redress those barriers that have systematically prevented inner-city residents from becoming productive participants in mainstream society.

We don't need another politician who is visible only before election time, always followed by the media, meeting with the already self-disciplined and organized blockwatch groups or tenant councils. We need someone welcome by those normally "too hard to reach" because he or she produces tangible results and is trusted as a "homegrown" trying to do some good.