September 7, 2007
“Imagine us in that bottom on that PCP.
Walkin’ to school wit a tool,
who gon’ beef wit me.
Got addicted to sellin’ drugs,
marijuana and coke.
Momma, she washed
her hands, and let me go.
The rest you know.
I aint gotta explain,
I been a man, since I went got my own.”
Lil Boosie, “My Struggle”
The roots of despair
When 16-year-old Preston J. Blackmer was murdered outside of his foster mother’s home in Milwaukee in April of 2005 most people living in the midsized Midwestern city barely noticed. After all, death is almost an every-other-day occurrence in “Kilwaukee.” Especially in Blackmer’s neighborhood where teenage drug dealers often sell dimes, sacks of crack and weed to their extended family members to keep the fridge full.
The fear of death is a fact of life for many young African-Americans living here. There have been nearly 1,500 murders in this city of 650,000 people since George W. Bush took over the oval office. Most of the victims have been Black folks living in a small concentration of census tracts on the city’s segregated North Side.
But violence is nothing new to Milwaukee. African-Americans have been dying at the hands of their peers at alarming rates for the last 25 years. It’s just that today both the victims and perpetrators are getting younger.
Born at a time when their parents and grandparents were facing Depression-era joblessness and underemployment, Blackmer’s Milwaukee is not the same attractive industrial boomtown that once pulled tens of thousands of former sharecroppers out of the South in the 1950s. Not only have many of the social safety networks — that once protected youth like Blackmer from the harsh realities of poverty — have disappeared, but also the rapid disappearance of work has weakened the bonds of black kinship networks.
Few politicians and community leaders want to admit it publicly, but children and young adults currently living in many of Milwaukee’s inner city neighborhoods are now more likely to go to prison than graduate from high school. Forget about college.
But Blackmer’s story is not unique to Milwaukee. All across the country, former industrialized metropolises like Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have been hit by a wave of violence. But what’s causing the increasing death toll? Has the Hip-Hop Generation finally hit the self-destruction button?
Rethinking ‘Murder Was the Case’
Of course, there is not just one source of urban America’s social woes. There are many issues at play including hypermasculinity. In his recent WireTap article “Murder Was the Case,” author Matthew Birkhold highlighted that there’s “a link between the construction of masculinity and the emergence of murder.” Birkhold argues that in an attempt to act ‘hard,’ “many men spend entire lives trying to prove their manhood, hurting others in the process.”