Chicago Association of Black Social Workers

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Criminals, Victims and the Black Men Left Behind

Posted by Chicago Association of Black Social Workers on August 15, 2014 at 4:50 PM


Criminals, Victims and the Black Men Left Behind


by Carla Murphy

Monday, August 4 2014, 7:00 AM EST.

This article is part of topic: Life Cycles of Inequity


Editor’s note: Our series “Life Cycles of Inequity” explores the ways in which inequity impacts the lives of black men. Each month, we focus on a life stage or event in which that impact has been shown to be particularly profound. This article was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute


The first time Jeremy Berry got shot it was late March 2012 and he called himself trying to help a homey from his block. Berry, about 5’9”, slim in build, lives in the Roseland section of Chicago’s South Side. He jumped into a fistfight, first with his hands and then throwing a brick. When Berry missed his target, the guy “upped a gun” and shot him. He spent a week in the hospital and three months recovering at his aunt’s house. The bullet remains in his right butt cheek.


The second time Berry got shot, it was June 2013 and he was hanging outside on the corner, “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” A basketball game with young men from another block in Roseland soured when a player from Berry’s block complained of a stolen watch and money. Berry didn’t participate in the tit-for-tat retaliations that followed, but that didn’t matter. He lived on the block, so he was included automatically as a target. One bullet hit a friend of his in the neck—he survived—and another tore through Berry’s chest. He stayed longer in the hospital this time, about nine days, and he spent two-and-a-half months recovering at a friend’s home. He also got a gun.


All together, the physical recovery from both shootings leached seven months from Berry’s life. “I got myself shot that first time,” Berry says, speaking in the Southern-tinged drawl of the black Midwest. “After the second time, I felt like I had to protect myself.”


Life Cycles of Inequity

A Series on Black Men


About This Series


WATCH: Out of Jail, but Not Free


[Ch. 2] Why Young, Black Men Can’t Work


[Ch. 1] Race, Disability and the School-to-Prison Pipeline




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And, he admits, he wanted revenge.


“But God took me off the street to teach me to turn the other cheek. Everything happened for a reason. God is never late, ” Berry says, lapsing into the church-speak he uses whenever conversation glints at his future. It’s not the prosperity gospel, though. This stretch of S. Michigan Avenue, 20 minutes by bus from the last stop on the el train, is storefront church territory. Berry’s mantra is the half praise, half plea of the survival sermon.


At 22 years old, Berry has been homeless since turning 17 and largely unemployed since graduating from high school. He likes to work with his hands and began working on cars when he was 9. Now, older adults in the neighborhood look out for him, offering him odd jobs like cutting grass or household repairs. When a kind offer appears, or when need and Chicago’s winter winds overtake his pride, he couch surfs around the neighborhood. At one point in his life, he dabbled in selling drugs.


Berry is a poster child for young, black men who’re at risk of getting killed. Yet, even though he has been shot twice in 15 months, he is not a poster child for crime victims—not in a society that too often demands innocence as a prerequisite for a compassionate response.


Despite a two-decade decline in violent crime nationwide—homicide, in particular—pockets of sustained violence remain in many urban neighborhoods. The fear of becoming a victim today is less a citywide threat, more a neighborhood one in poor sections of places like Chicago, New Orleans and St. Louis, and smaller cities like E. St. Louis, Camden and Baton Rouge, too. In May, President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative for boys and men of color issued a progress report that highlighted homicide as the leading cause of death for black males ages 10 to 24. But like much discussion about violence and black men, the report contained less detail about the much larger number of victims of violent crime who, like Berry, survive the assaults. What happens to them?


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