Friday, February 16, 2007

“This Ain’t Jerusalem”

No, it’s New Orleans:
He [Mandell Duplessis] was a seventh-grade dropout who had been dealing drugs since he was a teenager.


So home he went, about two months after the storm, to his old turf, and his old career.

Months later, Duplessis was dead. He was found fatally shot Aug. 4 on the steps of a trailer in the working-class neighborhood of Gentilly. It made for a minor post-Katrina story, but a depressingly common one in a city with a homicide rate that was the highest in the nation in the last six months, and about 15 times the national average.

Like many of the residents swept up in New Orleans' latest wave of violence, Duplessis was young, black and versed in the drug trade.

So, too, was the man police accused of pulling the trigger, a convicted drug dealer named Garelle Smith. Though apparently strangers, their life stories were remarkably similar.
You can not brush this off as “bad guys killing bad guys.” Every murder hurts the community.

The “bad guys” are often the fathers of the next generation, either by influence:
Duplessis, in his songs, described a different kind of epiphany, one sparked by the sight of a friend from the 'hood who had acquired a slick new car.

It was "a whip [that] looked like a space shuttle," Duplessis rapped. "I knew right then my whole focus in life was to hustle."
Or biologically:
When he [Duplessis] moved into his own place, drugs paid his rent. They paid for expensive sneakers, a fancy GMC Yukon Denali truck, and for the upbringing of the daughter he had fathered with an estranged girlfriend.
Just as the “bad guys” were influenced by their previous generation:
His mother loved him, but she was too strung out to raise a child. So Duplessis moved in with his grandparents when he was in the second grade.


Duplessis' mother sent him to a Catholic grade school until her drug habit ate into her finances. So he started sixth grade in a public school system that was considered among the nation's worst. Two years later, he dropped out.


Neighbors said [Garelle] Smith's father wasn't around much. Nor was his mother, Lynette K. Smith. She was arrested numerous times, and sentenced, in 1994, to two years in prison for crack possession and theft, court records show. The task of raising Garelle and his two sisters fell to their grandmother, Theresa.
This excuses nothing. But it explains a lot.

Our problems span generations. Our solutions don’t. We are too caught up on catching the bad guys, rather than preventing the bad guys.

Sure, we catch them. Mandell Duplessis had been caught before. Here’s a mug shot from 2004. And Garelle Smith was caught before, at least twice for murder.

The thing is, in 2006 they were both still up to no good. Duplessis’ rap lyrics suggest he was dealing drugs. After beating two murder arrests, Smith was arrested a third time for Duplessis’ murder.

The criminal justice system gets the bad guys and gals off the street. Then, it either keeps them off the street for life or rehabilitates them. When it works, it is a deterrent and prevents the bad people from doing bad things. In the case of Mandell Duplessis and Garelle Smith, our criminal justice system did none of those.

Warren Riley, Eddie Jordan, and all the judges in New Orleans – federal, state, or municipal – can not solve our problems. They can only deal with the person before them, not the generations before or after that person.

That’s our job. But I don’t know how to do it. I just know I can’t do it alone.

None of us is the savior. This ain't Jerusalem.

1 comment:

Marco said...

It all starts at home. That home is being decimated by many things. It will take many devoted people a long time to turn it around. It can be done and will be.