By Jamie C. Harris
Say the name Darius Lee. Remember the name Darius Lee. Let the name Darius Lee ring on every corner, in every school, in every barbershop and beauty salon, in every church in New York City. His name is a clarion call for activsim and drastic reduction of gun violence by any reasonable means necessary.
This is not a time for partisan politics, battles between those who advocate for progressive bail reform and defunding of police departments, and on the other side factions that campaign for more aggressive policing and harsher penalties for crimes. It is time for the disparate forces to be galvanized in the name of Darius Lee and the multitude of other precious casualties.
Lee, a beloved son, brother, friend to many, exemplary scholar-athlete and shining light of Harlem, was tragically shot and killed shortly after midnight on Sunday at 139th Street and Fifth Avenue, in his native Harlem. He was pronounced dead at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx.
The 21-year-old Lee was not the intended target. He was another innocent victim of infuriating gun violence that took place at an outdoor social gathering. The 277th mass shooting in the United States this year. Nine people were shot, eight wounded and one dead, Lee, a star scholar athlete at Houston Baptist University who was home for the summer and on track to be awarded a bachelor’s degree in December.
The New York Police Department had not publicly released a motive for the shooting as of the writing of this story, but as virtually always in these incidents the streets are talking. The cause of the carnage is allegedly the all too common beef between rival gangs. Among those emotionally crushed by Lee’s loss is Roosevelt Byers, the head basketball coach for the Eagle Academy for Young Men in the Bronx and former coach at St. Raymond’s high school, from where Lee graduated.
“When my wife woke me up and said Darius was shot,” Byers shared with me on Tuesday, “my mind did not instantly make a connection to Darius Lee because I couldn’t fathom it being him. I know people say about kids ‘he was a great kid,’ but in Darius’ case it was the perfect description.
“He was the type of young man every parent would want their son to be. I mean, an amazing kid. Darius was with me in my basketball program at (Dunlevy) Milbank since he was nine. I brought him to St. Raymond’s. This really hurts.
“When I got to the hospital,” Byers recalled, “some of his friends were there with their shirts drenched in blood from having Darius in their arms. It was sad. This shouldn’t have happened to Darius. We lost a special kid.”
They don’t want to see us unite
All they want us to do is keep on fussing and fighting
They don’t want to see us live together
All they want us to do is keep on killing one another
The lyrics sung by Bob Marley on the track “Top Rankin’” from the 1979 album “Survival” ring profoundly. The “they” to whom the great singer, humanitarian and philospher refers are ambiguous, but today can be interpreted as the elements that continue to foster death, destruction and the genocide of Black people in communities across the paradoxically named United States.
The list is long.
Callous and insidiously ambitious politicians who refuse to support sensible gun legislation. Financial institutions that allow credit card purchases of weapons and tactical gear amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. Merchants of death that traffic in the transport of illegal handguns and assault weapons which flood urban areas. Gang members who are depraved purveyors of disorder and bloodshed, leading to the perpetual slaughter of Black people.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a report published last month, in 2020, Black people were four times more likely to be killed by a gun than the overall population, and 12 times more likely than a white person.
The overall firearm homicide rate measured per 100,000 people, increased from 4.6 in 2019 to 6.1 in 2020. However, among Black people, the rate was 26.6, a 39.5% increase. For whites it was 2.2 per 100,000. Blacks composed a staggering 62% of the 19,350 homicides by gun.
Darius Lee’s legacy must be a dramatic reawakening in our communities.
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