On the last day of the annual NAACP convention last week, the Rev. Al Sharpton stepped to the mic.
"We cannot have our sons' and daughters' lives on the line for anybody who wants to pursue them, follow them and kill them — and say it's in self-defense."
Sharpton — alluding to George Zimmerman's recent acquittal in the Trayvon Martin shooting — was preaching to the choir.
And much of America became an amen corner. Media talking heads gnashed their teeth. Los Angeles protesters lugged signs that suggested black males are one endangered species that can be hunted with impunity. And more than 1 million names filled an NAACP petition imploring the feds to slap Zimmerman with a civil-rights suit.
I, too, have concerns over a verdict that seems to declare open season for those packing heat to shoot first and later don a nearly bulletproof vest: self-defense. Attention must be paid to tweaking or junking this flawed law.
On the other hand, Rev. Sharpton … What about the sons and daughters who regularly are killed in drive-bys in bullet-riddled urban America?
I considered the outsized focus on the Trayvon tragedy in light of a troubling slate of NAACP workshops.
Several sessions targeted urban gun violence. Specifically, gun-related homicides, which one session's summary noted was the "leading cause of death among African-American teens ages 15 to 19 in 2008 and 2009."
While U.S. gun homicides in 2010 plunged 49 percent from its high in 1993, blacks disproportionately remain victims of gun violence (55 percent in 2010, despite making up only 13 percent of the population), according to the Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends project.
Yet, somehow, the urgency of this deadly epidemic was obscured in Trayvon's blinding glare. There were no amens echoing across the nation to demand solutions. No petitions asking the feds to overhaul Posse Comitatus — the federal statute that limits Uncle Sam's ability to deploy troops as a police force — to tame gang-related violence. (Not that this would be a judicious option.)
Any life with boundless potential snuffed out too soon diminishes us all. But if that's true for a single life, then how much more our communities are weakened when we accept as commonplace the hundreds of victims that first-responders annually find in pools of blood?
For some reason, however, we've yet to galvanize a la Trayvon over killings that seem to happen with assembly-line reliability in Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia — and elsewhere.
Scattershot anti-violence initiatives aimed at curbing the problem are at work in many communities. Yet, there's not really a national hue and cry. At least not one that grabs screen time.
Might the indifference owe to a cynical sense that gangsters killing one another in the 'hood is no big deal? Among the problems with that notion is bullets lack GPS. A shot aimed at rival gangsters often finds innocents like Hadiya Pendleton. The 15-year-old Chicago honor student and majorette was killed while socializing with friends a week after performing at President Barack Obama's inauguration.
Did you feel a ripple of national outrage over the madness in Chicago during the Independence Day weekend, in which at least 67 people were shot — leaving 11 left dead?
To its credit, the NAACP is confronting the problem out of its convention with legislative initiatives to underpin its gun-violence campaign.
But the NAACP can't combat the crisis alone. With all our sons' and daughters' lives on the line, it'll take us, at last, standing together in Trayvon-like unity.
Can I get an amen?