SATURDAY, JULY 17, 2021
Colbert King continues to speak: Colbert King is 81, going on 82.
He grew up in Washington, D.C. He graduated from (Paul Laurence) Dunbar High, then moved on to Howard.
He has lived the bulk of his life in D.C. He joined the Washington Post's editorial board in 1990, then became the editorial page's deputy editor in 2000.
In 2003, he won the Pulitzer Prize in commentary "for his against-the-grain columns that speak to people in power with ferocity and wisdom."
(In our view, he made a terrible journalistic misjudgment during the 2000 campaign, but people do make mistakes and he might believe that we're wrong.)
King is the extremely rare, high-end commentator who focuses on urban youth. When he does, he tends to keep it local.
This morning, the headline on his column makes such a reference. Hard-copy headline included, his column starts like this:
KING (7/17/21): We are failing our children
Did you think for one second that the highly publicized March 23 carjacking of Uber Eats delivery driver Mohammad Anwar in Southeast D.C., which resulted in a horrific crash that left Anwar dead and two girls, age 13 and 15, under arrest, would cause a pause in carjackings and other offenses by juveniles? What planet are you on?
For the record, that fatal carjacking was heavily publicized in D.C. and pretty much nowhere else. It was executed by girls who were only 13 and 15—and as King notes, the trend didn't start or end there.
"Let’s return to grim reality," he says. Then he starts calling the roll:
KING: On March 12 and 16, less than two weeks before Anwar’s death, boys ages 15 and 14 were arrested and charged in the Feb. 27 armed carjacking of a ride-share driver in the 1400 block of Shippen Lane SE.
On March 25, two days after Anwar died, 13- and 14-year-old boys were arrested in an armed carjacking in the 100 block of 42nd Street NE.
On April 29 in the 300 Block of H Street NE, a driver was confronted by knife-wielding carjackers who took his vehicle and fled. A 15-year-old was arrested July 12 and charged with armed carjacking.
On July 8, a 15- and a 16-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl were charged in an armed carjacking in the 1800 block of Central Place NE.
The next day, in the 1200 block of New Jersey Avenue SE, a driver was assaulted with a stun gun in an attempted carjacking. The suspects were unsuccessful in getting the car, so they fled on foot. Police officers arrested three girls, ages 16, 14 and 12, and charged them with armed carjacking. Police said they were seeking a fourth suspect as well.
Let that sink in: a 12-year-old girl.
We're only including cases with kids who are younger than 16. As King continues, he reports that police have shut down "an apparent teenage robbery spree" in which five teens—one of them only 13—"allegedly committed at least 19 crimes in D.C., including armed robbery, assault and unauthorized use of a vehicle, between July 3 and July 14."
In his column, King questions whether the D.C. government is doing enough to address the needs of the kids who end up committing such crimes.
We can't speak to that question. But whenever we read about incidents like these, we always wonder how these kids reached the point of committing such horrific crimes—often, such horrific armed crimes—when they were so young.
What could have been happening in their lives? In many of these cases, their lives have largely been forfeited too.
How do kids who are so young end up committing such crimes? Except in columns by Colbert King, such questions are no longer popular or au courant, at least not here in Our Town.
In Our Town, our thought leaders rarely grew up in urban neighborhoods. When they perform their high morality regarding the lives of urban kids, they may tend to create the kinds of reports which appeared, for perhaps the ten millionth time, on the front page of yesterday's New York Times.
The report appeared on the Times' front page. Online, the headlines say this:
Boston Overhauls Admissions to Exclusive Exam Schools
A new policy will increase representation of Black and Latino students in the prestigious public schools, which serve as a gateway to elite colleges.
The report appeared on the front page. There the Times went again!
The Times is concerned with the sliver of kids who may end up at Harvard or Yale. It very much tends to avert its gaze from the kids who, for whatever reasons, may end up committing armed robberies or violent carjackings when they're just 12 or 14.
Except for Colbert King, no one seems to wonder or care about those kids. We've noted this fairly obvious fact again and again and again.
Is it news that Boston is changing admission procedures to its venerable old Boston Latin High School? Within reason, yes it is.
That said, the front-page report in yesterday's Times was maddening for two different reasons.
First, it was maddening because, once again, it front-paged those kids who may get into our "elite colleges," possibly after attending our "prestigious public schools." As seems to be policy at the Times, the report cares about those urban kids, and about no one else.
The report was maddening on that basis—on the basis of values. It was also maddening on the basis of simple logic, for the same old reason:
Even as it plumps and preens in support of the (perfectly valid) goal of getting more black and Hispanic kids into schools like Boston Latin, it never asks the obvious question:
If that many kids can succeed at a school like Boston Latin, why not double the number of seats at the "exclusive, prestigious" school? Why leave the number of seats unchanged, then start looking for ways to kick other kids out?
Simply put, the New York Times is too limited to raise that obvious question. The Times writes on this theme again and again, and this blindingly obvious question never enters its head.
Nor will the Times report or discuss the "achievement gaps" which help define one of the problems we all continue to live with. Only recently did we realize why this silence is (possibly) being maintained:
Professor Kendi has said that even discussing the gaps is a racist act. On that basis, the frustrations and struggles of many kids are turned into dust in the wind as those kids get kicked to the curb.
In our nine years in the Baltimore City Schools, we taught no one but Baltimore City kids. We especially recall those lovely kids on three separate occasions:
We recall the outrage of our first fifth-grade class in the spring on 1970 when we watched the Steinbeck film, The Forgotten Village. The film describes how people react when an epidemic assails a rural, pre-modern Mexican village.
How could parents possibly let their children die? these lovely kids angrily asked.
(We especially remember NAME WITHHELD angrily raising that question.)
We recall the question fifth-graders asked, several years later, in reaction to what they had seen on the gigantic TV show, Roots.
How could anyone ever have been willing to hold other people as "slaves?" That's the question those very good kids asked, and they spoke in genuine puzzlement.
We also remember the way kids sat, enthralled, as Mrs. Young read Eleanor Estes' superlative book, The Hundred Dresses, to their fifth-grade class. The book describes a girl whose parents are Polish immigrants being teased by some of her classmates in a town near Pittsburgh.
Those Baltimore kids hung on every word. (We can still see the late NAME WITHHELD leaning forward in his seat.) The world will score them as "black" kids, but they deeply cared about the unfairness being fictionally dished to that "white" Pittsburgh kid in Eleanor Estes' great book.
In our nine years, we taught only two kids who seemed to be some version of truly disturbed. One was fatally stabbed at age 38. A 19-year-old was arrested. We don't know what happened.
Moving ahead to the present day, what explains why a 13-year-old girl would take part in a violent carjacking? It can sometimes seem that the New York Times is too fine to wonder or ask.
The famous newspaper is all wrapped up in the small number of kids who might end up at Yale. At present, it seems that these are the values, horizons and ways of our own deeply self-impressed Town.
Colbert King's assessment: King's column ends as shown:
KING: What is unknown is whether the city is offering more than rhetoric and made-up “sounds and feels good” services. What these youths, who have baggage that many adults have never carried, need is the steadfast attention of committed professionals with extensive therapeutic experience, along with supportive families—and a clerical community that seems to have lost its voice—to help them turn their young lives toward a different path.
Short of that, D.C., build more jails, and look both ways before driving.
These youths "have baggage that many adults have never carried," King says.
Presumably, that's correct. Also, there but for fortune! (Try not to use the world "privilege.")
We would stress the idea that interventions should happen before kids commit terrible crimes. That said, King says those kids need "the steadfast attention of committed professionals...along with supportive families."
In many cases, we'll guess that the problem may begin with the lack of a supportive structure at home, or with something much worse. As for the clerical community, there are a lot of "communities" in Our Town which no longer seem inclined to talk about the lives, interests and experiences of deeply struggling kids.
According to the Times, these kids should all be sent to Boston Latin, and from there on to Yale. (Other kids will have to get booted.) These seem to be the moral and intellectual horizons which now obtain in Our Town.
One last point:
This point concerns the people to whom it doesn't occur that Boston Latin should maybe add seats. Are these the same people who read the Einstein-made-easy books, then stand in line to tell the world that they understood every word?
Imperfection is rampant in other towns. How about over here, in our own?