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Beyond sticks and stones

The symbolic burial of the N-word at this week's annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was an important attempt to put to rest a word that has long been used to insult and disrespect those who are black. As welcome as this funeral was, however, the NAACP and others in the black community should be even more focused on the kind of disrespect that results in mindless violence and too many black-on-black killings.

As an incendiary symbol of hatred and racism, probably no word is as loaded as the N-word. And when it comes to speech, there's a delicate, if not always bright, line that society and culture have drawn around a word that has been condemned as a racist rant, sometimes used quite effectively in literature, and even elevated by some in the African-American community - particularly comics and rap and hip-hop artists - as a term of acceptance and even endearment. But its demeaning and oppressive history justifies the NAACP's push for a conversation among black people to stop using the N-word in public. And for at least some rap and hip-hop artists to agree is progress.

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But if using the N-word is an unacceptable form of disrespect, the violence and homicides in many black neighborhoods should be intolerable. Beyond burying the N-word, how much better would it be to stop the burials of people who are losing their lives because, in too many instances, they didn't show proper respect to someone who had a gun and shot and killed them?

So far this year, Philadelphia is averaging about a murder a day. Baltimore, where the NAACP has its headquarters, remains one of America's deadliest cities, where young black men with criminal histories continue to kill each other. Other Eastern cities, such as Newark, N.J., are also experiencing high rates of homicide among young black males who use guns to settle disputes or to command respect by avenging perceived slights and insults.

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Drugs, poverty, racism and other factors contribute to violence that often pervades some neighborhoods. But if the N-word is worthy of burial as a symbol of disrespect, a broader and louder conversation needs to deal with killings in black communities that represent the ultimate devaluation of human life.



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