|From George Stinney To Marcus Spann, It’s In The Eyes
3/23/2016 2:44:46 PM
By Barney Blakeney
I was talking to The Chronicle’s new publisher about story ideas when he asked, “What’s hot on the street?” The first thing that came to mind was the rash of shootings and homicides that have occurred in recent days.
It had only been a few days since I wrote a story about homicides in Charleston County. My story hit the street Wednesday. As usual I was unwinding from the hectic pace of deadline the day before when the Wednesday midday newscast featured the story about a man being killed earlier at a North Charleston apartment complex.
I got that familiar twinge that comes when I hear subsequent information that changes my story. Over the next few days that story would change more as dead bodies accrued. At least I’d gotten part of the story right - we’re on our way to another record-breaking year in homicides.
I keep writing those stories hoping something will change. It doesn’t - young Black boys continue killing and being killed. I get the police reports, I see the numbers, I write the stories. Rarely do I see the faces. I was stunned at the picture of the 16-year-old boy in a striped jail house suit at bond hearing for the murder of 42-year-old Draco Ben Walker. The boy looked so young, a kid!
The kid, Marcus Spann, is accused of tying Walker up, shooting him, then chasing Walker and shooting him multiple times after Walker somehow escaped while Spann ransacked Walker’s apartment in a robbery attempt. Straight outta TV, ya’ll. I looked at Spann’s eyes in the picture accompanying the news story. I said to myself, “That boy had to be thinking he was acting out some television scene.”
Spann’s picture reminded me of a photo I recently saw of George J. Stinney Jr., a 14-year-old Black boy executed in 1944 who became South Carolina’s youngest person legally executed. There’s a mug shot of Stinney online. The eyes, the eyes. To me, Stinney’s eyes look like Spann’s eyes in the newspaper photo taken at Spann’s bond hearing.
Watching Spann I thought of all the young Black boys I’ve heard about during all those years of Jim Crow racism who became victims of the racist society that produced them.
How the game has changed. Unlike the past when white folks killed Black boys, today Black boys kill each other. Fifteen-year-old Derrick Roper was killed the same day Spann had his bond hearing. Five Blacks have been charged in connection with his murder. The oldest is a 23-year-old Black female. I believe all are victimized by the same racist society that executed Stinney, but the script’s been flipped.
Discrimination, inequality and disparity creates an environment where the influences of movies and music glamorize deviant behavior. Adults blinded by the hypnotic effect of life in the fast lane ask rhetorical questions like, “Where are they getting this from?”
A couple of years ago I was confounded by the prevalence of armed robbery reports I was receiving, robberies which were being committed by youthful offenders. The crime, in South Carolina carries a mandatory sentence of 10-30 years with at least seven years jail time. I asked myself why young Blacks took those chances considering the consequences are so severe.
In Charleston in 2010 a reported 22 armed robberies were committed by perpetrators under age 25. The next year that number nearly doubled to 39 armed robberies. In some of those incidents there were multiple perpetrators. In North Charleston in 2011 there were 26 armed robberies committed by perpetrators under age 20.
When I look at the picture of Marcus Spann I get the sense that those young kids really don’t know what the heck they’re doing. Last weekend some 80 members of Congress and their quests came to town to experience the healing Charleston has wrapped itself in since the June 17, 2015 massacre at Emanuel AME Church. That’s all good and everything, but as we bath in the afterglow of that tragedy, Black babies are committing murders.
In Charleston County we’ve got a school district administration that has thrown millions of dollars into an educational system that continues to fail our children. High school sophomores who should be doing homework are committing home invasions. Are we really experiencing any healing or just faking the funk as usual? When I look into their eyes, I don’t see healing in George Stinney in 1944 or Marcus Spann in 2016.