And it came to pass that many African American youths could not celebrate D.C. Emancipation Day on Friday. For a plague of violence had been visited upon them. And the soil once toiled by slaves was soaked with the blood of free-born blacks.
“I want to know what my son could have possibly done to make someone want to take his life?” a mournful NaClick Webb said to me the other day, as she and family members gathered around a dining table to console each other.
Webb’s son, 16-year-old Ra-Heem Jackson, had been an honor student at H.D. Woodson High in Northeast. He was shot to death April 7 near his home in the Congress Heights neighborhood and buried on Emancipation Day–which commemorates the freeing of the slaves in the nation’s capital.
Ra-Heem was one of eight black people slain in the District and neighboring Prince George’s County in a recent 10-day stretch. Funerals for four of them were held in the city last week.
Now comes the Passover Seder, on Monday, marking the start of the Jews’ ancient journey out of bondage. The story, as chronicled in the Book of Exodus, has made for a unique bond between Jews and African Americans.
But after this latest surge of killings, I can’t help but wonder if the deadly spirit that “passed over” the children of Israel and took the first-born of their oppressors has somehow reappeared and descended on the sons of black folks with a vengeance.
“There are some bad apples out there that make it very hard for the good kids to thrive,” said Dwanna King, a cousin of Ra-Heem’s. “The dangerous kids are usually the ones who have been neglected by their parents. They have no problem taking a life because they have no connection to family or community. They think only of themselves.”
Making matters worse, city and county officials are cutting many of the programs aimed at helping both the good and troubled youngsters. In the District, summer jobs for teens have been cut back. Summer school has been cut back, along with training programs for ex-offenders.
At Ra-Heem’s funeral, a young woman read a poem that questioned why politicians had shown such concern over the possibility of a government shutdown when they do so little for the city’s youth even when the government is up and running.