COLUMN LEFT : When Blacks Kill Blacks There’s Silence : If blacks were killing whites, we would see portable electric chairs on the streets.

<i> The Rev. Jesse Jackson writes a syndicated column from Washington</i>

Last week, 20-year-old Jay Bias died. A stranger started an argument with him at a shopping mall. A short time later, a semiautomatic gun was fired into the car in which he was traveling. Jay Bias was shot to death in suburban Maryland.

For James and Lonise Bias, the death of their son has a terrible familiarity. Their eldest son, Len Bias, an all-American basketball player, died from a dose of cocaine only four years ago. When that happened, Lonise quit her job and began warning young people across the country about the horror of drugs. Now, these grieving parents won’t let Jay’s death pass as just another senseless murder. James Bias is calling for a new crusade to control the guns and violence that are ravaging the lives of young black men across this country.

“These are young children dying,” he said. “A bad attitude and a gun have taken another life. I’m sick of it . . . and we are the only people able to put an end to it.”

Jay Bias’ death is one in a national epidemic. Homicide is now the leading cause of death among young black men. In many cities, the murder rate approaches the casualty rate of war. In the District of Columbia, black-on-black murder takes a per-capita toll many times greater than from the death squads in El Salvador.


We can protest the celebration of violence in our culture. Too many movies and TV shows serve, in essence, as glossy commercials for the guns on sale down the street. On Christmas Day, James Bias plans to picket a theater showing “The Godfather.” What better way to celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace?

At the same time, we must begin to offer hope. We must invest in the children. Too often, poor kids get to school too weak, too damaged to learn. Schools collapse; children drop out to face lives of desperation. Surely we reap the violent fruit of the damaged seeds we sow.

Black-on-black crime is not just a black problem. Jesus taught us to protect “the least of these,” for if the most vulnerable were protected, then everyone else would be safe. Martin Luther King Jr. died marching with the garbage workers, for he knew that if they were supported, others would be more secure. The young in our impoverished cities are the most vulnerable. If they are protected, then everyone will be safer.

The sorrows of James and Lonise Bias have made them better, not bitter. They now seek to redeem us through their suffering. Surely we can join them to bring an end the plague of guns and drugs before it poisons us all.


In Harlem, these killings make young men less likely to survive to age 40 than youngsters in Bangladesh. Short on hope, with easy access to guns and drugs, the young in our cities see violence as routine, even embrace it as sport.

Because this is black-on-black crime, there is a poisonous acceptance of it. If whites were killing black men at this rate, there would be national protests against genocide. If blacks were killing whites, the demand for capital punishment would be so loud that we would see portable electric chairs on the streets. But black-on-black crime is met with silent resignation. There is no popular reaction to the slaughter of our young.

James Bias wants to stop this surrender to violence. He is calling on the relatives of those who have been shot to join in a Stop the Violence campaign. “Your child can be shot in your home, in the shopping mall. No place is safe. Politicians won’t act, so we must stand up.” Solutions will not come easy, but there are things we can do.

We can end the easy access to guns. Today, it’s too easy to get your hands on AK-47s, Uzis and 12-gauge shotguns called “street sweepers.” Police are outgunned on the streets of our cities. We wage a war on drugs, but allow guns to wage war on us. It’s time to impose sensible limits on the sale of guns.


We can take back the streets. People must get tough on crime. Self-control must accompany gun control. Neighborhood patrols must supplement police patrols. Decent citizens must mobilize to protect the children and drive the drug peddlers and gun toters off the street.