Murder in Philadelphia: Tragic and familiar tale

Acel Moore

January 08, 1991|By Acel Moore

PHILADELPHIA — THE MURDER of Tyrone Wallace, a 17-year-old North Philadelphian shot and killed for a gold chain, should inspire us all to make New Year's resolutions to help eliminate the despair, lawlessness and lost values that plague the weakest among us.

The story of Wallace's murder, as told by Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Peter Landry, is a tragic and all-too-familiar tale of the lack of values, civility and anarchy that exists among youths in some urban neighborhoods around the nation. According to Landry's report, Tyrone Wallace was killed by a man who stepped from a car on a street corner the night after Thanksgiving and shot the boy in the heart, after grabbing an expensive gold chain that Wallace was wearing.

The person who killed Wallace has not been apprehended, but I can envision his profile. He is more than likely a young man, between 15 and 24, whose sense of values, human kindness and self-esteem have never been developed or, if they have, have been destroyed by drug use. He is probably a school dropout, semi-literate and a repeat offender who is lacking any skills that would enable him to earn a living. He is a weak man whose first instinct is always to use force or violence to get what he wants.

Wallace's life was the antithesis of that profile, which is an even more troubling aspect of his death. Wallace was in fact more the typical African-American youngster. Although he was poor, he was a good young man who did not fit the stereotype of his killer.

Wallace was not involved with drugs, and he worked after school and on weekends. He worked hard to find the money for that gold chain torn from his neck. He was doing well in school and zTC had the respect and admiration of his peers. The youngest of three siblings, he was the product of a home headed by a single female. It was a stable family environment.

Tyrone's mother had instilled in him the values of hard work and kindness. He was a "maker" rather than a "taker" like his killer.

Those values enabled him to avoid the temptation of the drug culture -- fast money and violence. But unfortunately he was unable to escape becoming the victim of that culture.

Wallace's death was one of a record number of homicides -- 525 -- that occurred in Philadelphia in 1990. Wallace sadly fell victim to the leading cause of death among black males aged 15 to 24 -- a national plague that threatens a generation of black and other impoverished youth in America.

Eventually the police will apprehend Wallace's killer. But the arrest and imprisonment of that person will not prevent another Tyrone Wallace from becoming a victim of the desperate people among us.

Until the underlying causes of the despair, the senseless violence, misdirected priorities and distorted values that possess increasing number of young people are corrected, we all will continue to suffer. It is is a psychosis that neither law enforcement nor government drug-rehabilitation programs nor money can solve.

Many persons have met the challenge of doing something about hopelessness and despair. I have written about civic, church and social organizations, as well as individuals, who work with primary school children. They have set up trusts for the %o children's continuing education. They have established guidance programs that introduce children to role models in an effort to instill hope and improve opportunity.

To have an impact on the problem, however, it is not necessary to be wealthy or to devote a lot of time. The most successful social programs are often begun by one or two individuals or organizations.

Groups like Concerned Black Men, which was started in Philadelphia during the mid-1970s, have grown to be national organizations. Concerned Black Men sends adults into inner-city schools to talk to young children, particularly boys. It now has chapters in a half-dozen cities, including Baltimore.

Public school educators have set up innovative programs that bring people from all walks of life into the schools to act as role models and counsel youths. The two have inspired other school administrators to do the same.

Last year I wrote a column about one white police officer who volunteered to become a big buddy to an 11-year-old black boy desperately in need of a positive role model. His story inspired some 30 other police officers to do likewise.

More and more community people, professionals and middle-class men and women, black and white, are going into the schools to talk to the youngsters about life, about what it really means to be a father or mother, and about the value of earning your own way in life.

Unless people who live in those communities, or have escaped them or have never lived in them, get together to work toward instilling some of the old values that are missing from the weakest among us, we will all continue to pay the price in one way or another.

Clearly, all of us are losers when young people like Tyrone Wallace, who was well on his way to becoming a productive citizen, are slain before they reach their potential.

Acel Moore is associate editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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