As Leslie Ireland approaches the end of high school, he doesn't know what the future holds.
Contemplating his class reunion 10 years from now, the Annapolis High senior says, "I may not even be around in 10 years."
Ireland's gloomy assessment is not mere teen angst. While others their age may talk about succeeding in life, young men such as Ireland are more concerned about surviving.
Ireland is a young black male.
The statistics are staggering.
Black males are twice as likely as are white males to die before age 45. A black male has an 18 percent probability of being incarcerated sometime in his life. Forty-eight percent of blacks aged 15-19 who died in 1988 were killed by gunfire, compared with 18 percent of whites.
And, blacks are 11 times more likely to be killed by guns. Of the 1,641 victims aged 15-19 killed by firearms in 1988, 955 were black males, more than twice the number of white males killed that year in the United States.
"In some areas of the country, it is now more likely for a black male between his 15th and 25th birthday to die from homicide than it was for a United States soldier to be killed on a tour of duty in Vietnam," said Dr. Robert Froehlke, an author of a report on the subject from the federal Centers for Disease Control, from which the above statistics are quoted.
Darius Stanton, youth coordinator for the Anne Arundel County Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs, says the negative numbers feed on themselves.
"I just turned 21 and someone told me, 'Well, you beat the statistics,' " says Stanton, three years out of high school. "Well, I don't buy that. . . . We're so used to people thinking of us as inferior, we have accepted it and put it on ourselves.
"We've seen people disrespect us for so long we don't respect ourselves," he says. "Our women certainly don't respect us. We believe the hype."
Stanton and five other young black men in Annapolis -- part of a generation which the federal report dubs the "endangered species" or "imprisoned generation" -- spoke with a reporter recently about their hopes and fears as the school year ends.
The five high school seniors represent a diverse spectrum. Two of them live in Annapolis' public housing developments. Another was raised in a more middle-class environment as a minister's son. All but one come from a single-parent household, due either to death or divorce.
Gerard Hyman, 17, has heard the murder statistics time and again. Seemingly, the Annapolis senior would be in a relatively safe port. After all, his town, home to about 33,000 residents, is known for history, Georgian-style homes and marinas.
But, for all its gingerbread charm, Annapolis grapples with some serious problems. Last year, five people were murdered in Annapolis, the most the capital city has seen. Police determined that four of the murders were drug-related, and suspect the fifth was, too. All of the victims and suspects were black males. The same traits hold true for the city's lone murder this year: a black victim, a black suspect, drugs.
WITNESS TO A KILLING
Hyman, a quiet and thoughtful young man, saw last year's final victim just moments after he had been shot.
"It was around Christmastime," Hyman says. "I just heard the boom and when I turned around I saw the guy on the ground."
Darryl Downs was shot outside the Bywater Village public housing project Dec. 20. He was a year older than Hyman, who used to live in the same development. Hyman did not know him.
One of two men believed to be responsible for Downs' death turned himself into police. The other suspect remains at large. The shooting is believed to have been drug-related.
"People just accept it," says Mister Green, 17. "Sometimes I don't think anything can be done about the drugs. It's everywhere."
Green himself was a crime victim a year ago. His assailants were other black males a few years older than he. He was coming out of a go-go club at the Crownsville Fairgrounds when he "got stuck up."
"Sometimes I worry about the whole black race," says Titus Jeffries, who moved to Annapolis from Baltimore County with his mother and stepfather just before high school.
The most vocal and self-assured of the group, he says, "Whites have the money. The white man always brings it [drugs] into our communities. Whether or not the black man uses it is up to us."
Most of the students believe the drug problem and violent lifestyle that accompanies it in the black community is more the fault of the individual. They speak of "personal responsibility" with a wisdom beyond their years. But, they all agree, a lack of money and opportunity leads many young black males to the rapid and typically brief career of drug dealer.
EASY WAY OUT