Marching for the Missing

October 14, 1995|By JEAN MARBELLA AND SANDRA CROCKETT | JEAN MARBELLA AND SANDRA CROCKETT,SUN STAFF

If she could get each of her three sons to their 25th birthdays, Barbara Ginyard thought, they would be fine. She knew the statistics; she knew that when it came to young black men in the city, the years from 18 to 24 were the danger zone. For everything: drugs, guns, crime, violence.

Jerry, her eldest, is now 36, lives down the street from her and does home improvement work. Charles, her second, is 30, loves music and works as a deejay. That left only the baby, James, to turn 25, on Oct. 9, 1995. The day arrived, it was a crisply pleasant one of clear skies and cleansing breezes, and Ms. Ginyard and her family drove to Woodlawn Cemetery to put flowers on the hilltop gravesite inscribed "JAMES GINYARD III, 1970-1995."

James didn't make it. Nor did Brian or Elijah or Raymond or Corey or the scores of other young black men who are murdered every year in Baltimore before they can pass the 18-to-24 chasm. They are the group -- the race, the age, the gender -- on which the city's homicide rate takes its most immense toll.

On Monday, the Million Man March will make its way to Washington without them -- but, in some ways, for them. The marchers will be black men, standing shoulder to shoulder in a show of unity, commitment and what its organizer Louis Farrakhan calls atonement for, among other things, abandoning their families and communities.

It is an intriguing if uncomfortable concept to raise: the missing black man, and what his absence has wrought.

There are many ways to be missing. Physically, of course, but also emotionally; in prison or on the streets rather than in the home or on the job. But the most unalterably missing man is the murdered man. And, more than cancer, more than AIDS, more than car wrecks, homicide is decimating a generation of black men. It is the leading cause of death in metropolitan areas for black men ages 18 to 24.

If they were casualties of war, surely there would be protests and demands that something be done to staunch the flow. But instead, their murders barely register on the radar screen of public attention. If this newspaper, for example, noted their deaths at all, it was often in two or three paragraphs of stultifying sameness: "A 20-year-old Forest Park man died last night in a hail of bullets " "The youth, who suffered at least eight gunshot wounds, was pronounced dead " "The victim of the shooting, believed to be in his early 20s, was shot in the chest and both arms "

If a suspect is arrested, he usually is a statistical duplicate of the victim and headed for the criminal justice system that, on any given day, has one out of every three young black men in prison or on parole or probation. Another missing man. Often, though, the news accounts end with the dreary litany: no known suspect, no known motive.

And yet, if these victims are anonymous to the rest of us, if their individual lives and deaths passed without the attention of the larger world, to their intimates, they are now and forever the missing. The missing son, the missing father, the missing brother, husband, lover, friend.

There are so many. Baltimore's homicide rate has declined from the peak year of 1993 when 353 persons were slain; 243 have been killed since January. But the price that violence exacts on the black community has remained steady, and huge. Some 90 percent of the victims are African-Americans, and most of those are young and male. One out of every 21 black men in America, the Department of Justice says, can expect to be murdered. Conceivably, a few may die unmourned, lost long before the actual murder to whatever family or community once embraced him. But for most, there is a ripple of loss. There are hearts broken, potential unmet and, often and sadly, children left fatherless.

Family members of a few recent victims were contacted to bear witness for these largely unheralded young men. They spoke of loss, for sure, but also of remembrance.

JAMES GINYARD III

(1970-1995)

The pictures could be of twins, two identical Gerber-cheeked babies, round-faced and sweet, each framed with a pair of bronzed baby shoes.

The one on the left is Jamal Ginyard, now 6, and the one on the right is his father, James, killed in March just blocks from their house on West Lafayette Street. Barbara Ginyard raised James here, in a corner house that she and her husband bought just before James was born, and now she will raise Jamal here as well.

"When I get him up in the morning to go to school, I think, it's James all over again," she says. "He's very good in school just like his father. James was gifted and talented all through school."

Jamal has lived with her since his birth, and, after living in Owings Mills for a while, James had returned home as well. As his son grew from baby to little boy, James was becoming more involved as a father, Ms. Ginyard says, taking Jamal to his old school, Lafayette Elementary, P.S. 202, and attending PTA meetings.

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