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Macon murders: Looking for answers

Two weeks ago today, 16 year-old Jayvon Sherman was shot to death while walking to school. As I write this police do not know who shot Jayvon or why they did it, but we do know he is the 22nd person to be murdered in Macon this year. And Tuesday added three more to the total.

As is the case every year, a large percentage of the homicide victims in Macon are African American men and most of them were killed by other African American men. That fact has led some to wonder aloud why organizations like Black Lives Matter don’t take to the streets to hold outraged protests when black-on-black violence occurs as they do when there are (much rarer) instances of white policemen killing black men without any apparent provocation.

I can think of a couple of reasons why one scenario motivates a public protest and the other does not. For one, it’s obviously easier to stir up people’s emotions when they feel they are being menaced by an outside threat, as opposed to problems within their own community.

But if public protests aren’t likely to help reduce incidences of black-on-black homicides, what can be done about it?

I also think it’s more likely that entities like local governments and police departments, who depend on public support to do their jobs effectively, would be more likely to respond to public pressure than street gangs, domestic abusers, drug addicts and others who commit homicides. So logically speaking it makes more sense to “march on city hall” to get the attention of those in authority than to try and use the same tactics on those who stay in the shadows and answer to no one.

But if public protests aren’t likely to help reduce incidences of black-on-black homicides, what can be done about it? I don’t have a ready answer, but I would suggest that before we start trying to come up with solutions we try and get a better understanding of the problem.

When someone is murdered a lot of attention is paid to the victim and their family, and rightfully so. But if we want the killings to stop, maybe we need to pay more attention to the people who are pulling the trigger.

When a murder occurs and the killer is arrested, the media usually provides us with a profile of the killer — where they are from, what their families and friends say about them, and whatever is known about the circumstances of the killing. Then the trial is covered, the verdict announced, and that is usually the last we ever hear on the matter.

I believe it would be helpful if those convicted killers were questioned in depth about their lives, the decisions they’ve made, and what led them to the point where they took another person’s life. We tend to think of murderers as animals, as something less than human, but they are human. They are people who have made some very bad choices, and we need to understand what led them down the path to commit evil acts.

We would want to be careful, of course, not to glamorize or create sympathy for people who have been convicted of serious crimes and deserve to be locked away and punished for them. The goal should be to get information, from the source, as to what is leading young men to kill other young men.

There is an old saying that goes “if you don’t know where you are, a map won’t help.” Before programs are put in place and time and money are allocated to try and alleviate the murder rate in Macon, wouldn’t it be wise to try and figure out where we are and how we got here?

That seems like an excellent job for the fine reporters, writers and researchers who work at The Telegraph and other local media providers. I will leave it to the people who do this sort of thing for a living to judge whether my idea has merit.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com.

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