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News - There oughta be a law

Unspeakable sights under the street lights

I'll never forget my first boyfriend.

I was 13. Jerome was street smart and his clothes were most fly. I swear he could shoot Michael Jordan out of a gym, and he "dusted" us all one-by-one in numerous footraces in our East St. Louis, Ill., neighborhood.

I remember when Willie Bee could run. He was the boy Jerome shot in the back with a stolen gun, paralyzing him for life.

Willie Bee was lucky. Charlie Young Jr. is dead. Chased down, beaten until his brain seeped from his skull. Charlie fought his way inside a neighbor's house, but his killers blocked the door and broke windows to get at him. They beat him unconscious with bats, broomsticks, metal poles and 2-by-4s. One suspect described how he jumped back each time he struck Charlie with a shovel handle so blood wouldn't get on his clothes.

At 10:30 on an early fall night, 90 minutes past Milwaukee's juvenile curfew, a 10-year-old hit Charlie with an egg. When he retaliated, hitting a 14-year-old in the mouth, Charlie signed his death warrant. Of the 15 assailants, ages 10 to 18, five of their fathers are dead. Another is in prison. One 14-year-old was a father himself.

Convicting them wouldn't amount to an injustice. From curfew violations to aggravated assault to possession of cocaine and a handgun, most of the boys have criminal records. At least one 16-year-old is still in the eighth grade, and an illiterate ninth-grader doesn't attend school.

"Don't take [my] baby away," one mother said. "He hasn't seen even half of his life."

Which begs the question: Why aren't these parents held accountable? We cannot legislate good parenting, but there are laws against the neglect and abuse of children. No 10-year-old should be roaming the streets at 11 p.m. Attending class should not be an option for a high school freshmen.

"[Kids] do what they want to do," one neighbor said following Charlie's murder. "I don't think nothing should happen to the parent, either. It's not always guaranteed that you know where your kids are at."

It was in my house. My entire life was one big check-in desk. We didn't have a police-enforced curfew, but it didn't matter. My cousins and siblings were in the house when the streetlights came on. I couldn't wear red nail polish, makeup or talk on the phone past 8 o'clock.

After Willie Bee got shot, I wasn't allowed to talk to boys. My mama had spies all over the neighborhood.

Of the 26 school children on our block, 14 are dead. Five are in jail (two are doing life for murder). Of the remaining seven, five lived in our house. An unknown gunman murdered my father and brother. My oldest brother, Don, was beaten and thrown into a ditch on the other side of the railroad tracks near our house because he owed some kid $2. My stepbrother Philip is dead, too.

If Charlie were white, Jesse, Al and the other so-called Leaders of the New School would be defending these kids like they did in Decatur, Ill., after a mob fight at a high school football game, and blaming the Bush administration for its failed domestic policies. If the assailants were white, it would qualify as a hate crime, the D.A. would throw the book at them, and there would be a sea of fiery speeches.

"It ain't nothing new," said another Milwaukee neighbor. "I just watch the news at night to make sure it ain't anyone from my family."

I'll be damned if I don't know where my 11-year-old son is — every moment of every day. Yet, despite his curfew, straight A's, dependable father and respect for authority, I may never be able to keep him from harm.

letters@creativeloafing.com

Goldie Taylor, an Atlanta based- freelance journalist, is a single mother of three.??





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