Jones had been accused of stealing Nike flip flops, and another assistant coach for the team watched it all go down without doing anything to intervene. In the fight, Jones’ prosthetic eye was damaged and his tooth was knocked out. Fenger High School is also notorious for the beating death of 16-year old Derrion Albert in 2009.
When I read about this beating, my stomach turned. I’m not sure if Darion stole the flip flops or not, but the idea that this kind of vigilante justice was endorsed by members of the coaching staff is beyond shameful. The incident speaks to the fact that Fenger, as well as other schools around the country, are unable to provide adequate protection for young Black children who are regular targets of this form of bullying.
Scores of Black children die in Chicago every year, yet there is very little national discussion of these tragedies. In South Central Los Angeles, thousands of youth grow up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after wondering if their walk to school is going to be interrupted by an AK-47. All the while, most of the conversation about bullying tends to focus on gay kids in the suburbs. Yes, all plights are worthy of discussion, but one has to wonder if Black youth were factored into our nation’s sudden decision to begin discussing this problem (I don’t recall seeing any Black kids on the AC360 discussion on bullying, nor have I seen the issue of urban bullying featured on any national media outlet).
It must be made clear that Darion and millions of other children in urban communities across America are regular victims of a type of bullying that is rarely seen in the suburbs. His mother has already lost a child to gun violence, and the fact that we’ve come to accept this as a normal part of “growing up in the hood” should sadden us all. The national discussion on bullying should bring forth specific conversations and action plans for children in urban communities, so that they can feel as safe as the middle class kids whose coaches DON’T arrange for them to be beaten in front of their moms.
The kids in the suburbs don’t have gun shops and liquor stores on every corner, conjoined with massive unemployment and low educational quality to accelerate the chances that they might find themselves being beaten or shot by a bully who’s not even in school anymore. A well-known example might be the scene in the famous film, “Boyz in the Hood,” where one of the teen characters is murdered in an alley after getting into an altercation with a 27-year old man. This story is played out repeatedly all over the country, yet some seem to believe that for young Black men in America, dying is simply a part of life.
Kids like Darion Jones need help. They need our protection and they need to feel safe. Additionally, getting rid of the guns, improving educational quality and reducing the massive Black teen unemployment rate (regularly over 40%) might be a step in the right direction. So, not only should bullies be confronted for their behavior, we should also stop turning urban neighborhoods into “bully incubators” that create the destructive characters who end up slaughtering and traumatizing our children.
For every Darion Jones whose story makes the national news, there are a thousand other Black youth whose stories are never told. Many of these kids are left with the difficult choice of being judged by 12 members of a jury or being carried by six pallbearers at their own funeral. We must give good kids better options, better policies, and signals to show that their lives are just as valuable as the kids who have a little money. Being picked on is obviously depressing, sad and hurtful, but our kids are the ones who are being regularly beaten and shot.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your BlackWorld Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.