Life is too precious. Don't toss it away.

January 04, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

Dear young black men of Baltimore:

Let me start with this: Life is precious. Life is miserable sometimes, but life is precious. There are doctors and nurses at Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland - and everywhere, for that matter -who work hard at saving lives, treating the sick and making people healthy. We spend billions of dollars in health care in this country because we hold life precious. Most of us want to live as long as possible.

There are people who have diseases or disorders that force them to spend countless hours in hospital wards, doctors' offices or home in bed. Some experience a great deal of pain - so much that you might wonder why they want to live at all. But they do. They do not want to die. They fight for every breath.

And that's normal.

What's not normal is putting yourself at risk to die early, as a teenager or young man in his 20s.

Yet, that's what a lot of you do every day. It's practically suicidal, if you ask me.

I'm not talking about smoking cigarettes or driving a car too fast.

I'm talking about the risk of being shot to death in Baltimore.

If you are a black male, between 18 and 24 years of age, and if you have been in trouble - been to Hickey, say, or to one of the prisons - there's a pretty good chance you could end up as a shooting victim in 2007.

But you know this, don't you?

If you've been in the juvenile justice system, or a prison, you've heard some middle-age man or woman describe the risks. A Sun article stated it again the other day: Baltimore's homicide rate remains one of the highest in the country, and guys like you continue to be killed in large numbers by ... guys like you.

So you're out there, armed and dangerous, or running the risk of being killed. You're into gangs, or into drugs. You owe somebody money, or you get into stupid stuff, or do the macho thing. Whatever. You know what gets guys killed.

The rest of us wonder why you keep putting yourselves in the cross hairs.

Is it really possible you don't care to live?

I've talked to some of you guys over the years, as well as the people who've tried to teach you in school or counsel you through juvenile justice, judges and cops, and they all believe the same thing: You guys only seem to care about what happens in the next hour, the next instant. You've had awful lives - immersed in drug addiction and poverty and failure - and have no expectation of living a long life.

May I make a suggestion?

Snap out of it.

Stop accepting all that bull. Rethink everything today.

Quit assuming death-by-24 is your fate.

This city - your families, your neighbors and people you don't even know - is sick of all the killing, the waste of your lives. You might think we don't care - young black men killing one another - but we believe that all lives are precious, and there's too much unnecessary death, and it has ruined miles of the human landscape here.

The homicides of young men in Baltimore remain the great shame of the city. The Ravens could win the Super Bowl again this year, and Baltimore will still be one of the most violent places in the nation.

Suggestion to all young black men between 16 and 24 in the city of Baltimore: Be the generation that stops all the killing.

Why not do something extraordinary and legendary? Stop doing the same stupid stuff over and over again. If you were born between 1983 and 1991, be the generation that breaks from the bloody past.

Stop considering yourselves worthless - you're not - and stop accepting the old lies. Shelve the macho stuff. Ask for help. Finish school. Get a job. Get a GED. Talk to someone who can give you some sound advice. Call here (410-332-6166), and I can put you in touch with them.

I know some of you understand what I'm getting at. You can't talk about it on the street. It's not macho to admit you're afraid of dying. It's not cool to say you'd like to get more out of life than what you have now. It's not cool to have dreams.

But let me be clear: Doing nothing, staying where you are now, is going to get you killed.

I've been invited to a memorial service this Saturday for a young guy who was shot to death a year ago on Edmondson Avenue. Within just a few weeks, starting in December 2005, he had had two brushes with death before someone finally got him on Jan. 9. Police said he was a drug dealer who returned one too many times to a neighborhood where he obviously had created enemies.

He had a wife. He had four children. His family had recently moved to Columbia.

Yet with all that going for him, he still went back to the streets. After being shot in December, doctors worked for three days to patch him up and save him - and still he returned to Edmondson Avenue and threw his life away.

Please, young black men of Baltimore, smarten up. Please stop killing, and please stop putting yourselves at risk of being killed. Give your families and your friends a break. Give your city a lift. Choose life over death. Life is precious.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Hear Dan Rodricks from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays on "The Buzz" on WBAL Radio (1090 AM).

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