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Vernon Forrest: Another victim to a senseless homicide in the black community and America: when will we have a serious dialogue or town hall meeting on this Crisis?

Vernon Forrest

Vernon Forrest

By James L. Walker, Jr., Esq.

Less than 24 hours ago, authorities in Atlanta reported the death of one of the most successful boxers of the last decade, Mr. Vernon Forrest.

Forrest, 41-3, a former two-division champion, who rose to fame by beating Sugar Shane Mosley, was shot to death in an attempted robbery when he stopped to get air in his tire.

According to police, while his 11-year-old godson went into the convenience store, Forrest was shot several times in the back late Saturday night on a street just southwest of downtown Atlanta.

His manager Charles Watson told the Associated Press that Forrest apparently stopped at a gas station when a man approached asking for money.

Forrest had his wallet out and the guy snatched his wallet and started running. The guy apparently turned the corner and Forrest did not see him. When Forrest attempted to return to his car, the suspect then started firing multiple blasts from a semi-automatic weapon.

Forrest’s trainer Buddy McGirt, an old friend of mine, said he’s been at a lost for words as the two were scheduled to return to the gym in a week to prepare for another big fight.

Forrest was one of the good guys in boxing, who helped tons of people. Through his Destiny’s Child foundation, he helped the mentally challenged with a group home that touched hundreds of lives. The home has 24-hour supervision by trained mental and health professionals and Forrest did it without a lot of fanfare or media hamming like most athletes do solely for publicity. What will happen now is unclear with his death.

But, his death is a wake up call for America on the violent streets of our communities, particularly in urban neighborhoods that is often not discussed in mainstream media.

The calendar had barely turned the page to 2007 when a spray of bullets hit the stretch limousine carrying Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams, as he left a New Year’s Eve nightclub party. He died in the arms of his teammate Javon Walker at the young age of 24.

About a year later, the NFL faced tragedy again when Washington Redskins standout Sean Taylor was shot in his leg at his Florida home in a botched robbery attempt. He was also 24 and died at a hospital after emergency surgery.

And, countless other high profile athletes have had issues including NBA Players Eddie Curry and Antoine Walker, both robbed at gunpoint over the last couple of years.

But, it is important to note that thousands die annually at the hands of gun violence in urban cities and in the suburbs. And, I do not want to cheapen or lessen the values of their deaths in anyway due to their non-celebrity.

For years, the black homicide rate has been higher than of whites and should be of great concern, particularly when a wealthy successful athlete can be gunned down like this, or a poor innocent high school kid in just about every urban city can be shot down.

According to the Washington, DC based Violence Policy Center (VPC), each year, more than 30,000 Americans die in gun suicides, homicides, and unintentional shootings as a result of the ready availability, and accessibility, of specific classes of firearms. Guns and tobacco are the only two consumer products for which there is no federal health and safety oversight, VPC contends.

The VPC reports the following as recently as 2006 for the entire United States:

* There were 7,425 black homicide victims in the United States. Of these, 6,383 (86 percent) were male, and 1,041 (14 percent) were female. Gender was not recorded for 1 victim.
* The homicide rate for black victims in the United States was 20.27 per 100,000. In comparison, the overall national homicide rate was 5.38 per 100,000 and the national homicide rate for whites was 3.14 per 100,000.
* For homicides in which the weapon used could be identified, 82 percent of black victims (5,722 out of 6,942) were killed with guns. Of these, 79 percent (4,501 victims) were killed with handguns. There were 671 victims killed with knives or other cutting instruments, 258 victims killed by bodily force, and 175 victims killed by a blunt object.
* For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 74 percent of black victims (2,607 out of 3,502) were murdered by someone they knew. Eight hundred ninety-five victims were killed by strangers.
* For homicides involving black victims for which the circumstances could be identified, 69 percent (3,081 out of 4,490) were not related to the commission of any other felony. Of these, 56 percent (1,721 homicides) involved arguments between the victim and the offender. Twelve percent (377 homicides) were reported to be gang-related. Forty-four percent of these (167 homicides) were in California, which may be in part due to more comprehensive reporting. In California, 45 percent of non-felony related homicides were reported to be gang-related.

Northeast University Criminal Justice Professor James Alan Fox issued a report about 6 months ago and pointed out that while we celebrate the reduction in murder rates nationally, we have concealed a “worrisome divergence”, which is the high number of crime struggles in poor areas with no social programs for the youth.

Fox zoomed in on juveniles (ages 14 to 17), pointing out that in 2000, 539 white and 851 black juveniles committed murder. In 2007, the number for whites, 547, had barely changed, while that for blacks was 1,142, up 34 percent.

From New York to Los Angeles to Chicago to Atlanta, where Forrest died, the homicide situation and violence is a crisis that no one is discussing.

And, it is not immune to just big cities. Even Milwaukee, a smaller market has been effected.

From 2000 to 2007, according to the Professor’s Fox’s report, murders in Milwaukee by whites ages 14 to 24 rose by 4 percent, while those by blacks rose by 62 percent.

So, while we mourn the death of Vernon Forrest and so many other nameless individuals, it is my hope that we can move away from the discussion on the Harvard Professor, the Police Officer and the President and put our real energy on a real crisis in our community.

Regardless of socio-economic status, if Black In America, you are not above the dangers of our violent society.

James L. Walker, Jr., is an attorney, author, businessman and adjunct professor. He is also the operator of the Joshua House half-way house. He can be reached at www.walkerandassoc.com or www.jameslwalkeresq.com

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