Tragedy began with womans upbringing


On May 5, Kendra James was shot and killed by a Portland police officerÊwhile seeking to elude arrest.ÊSome have exploited James' death Ñ and the officer's exoneration by a grand jury Ñ to allege a police culture of hostility toward minorities.Ê'It appears that when it comes to people of color, it's shoot first and get acquitted later,' the Rev. Roy Tate asserts.

This is untrue Ñ and unfair.ÊTo understand James' fate, one must ask a basic question: Why do so many young blacks run afoul of the law in the first place?

The figures are stark.ÊBlacks, who make up one-eighth of America's population, are arrested for more than 40 percent of its violent crimes Ñ in one recent year for 52 percent of murders, 54 percent of robberies and 35 percent of aggravated assaults.ÊBlacks also are arrested for a third of America's drug violations Ñ often for those involving crack cocaine, which has long wreaked havoc on young black lives.

Backgrounds of individual criminals and motives for individual crimes vary. But certain behaviors and mind-sets prevalent in black communities may help explain why so many young blacks turn to crime.

Black crime may be traced first and foremost to a high proportion of broken and never-formed families; some 70 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers.

'The children of single moms are more likely than those of two-parent families É to drop out of or be expelled from school, to become juvenile delinquents, to take drugs, and to commit adult crimes,' writes political scientist James Q. Wilson in his book 'The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families.'

He goes on to observe: 'Young people in father-absent families were twice as likely to be incarcerated as those in two-parent families.'

And the problem perpetuates: 'Children whose parents are divorced or never marry begin sex earlier, get pregnant out of wedlock more often, and more frequently become a teen parent,' report researchers Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher in their book, 'The Case for Marriage.'

Another contributor to black crime is what black scholar John McWhorter terms the 'cult of victimology': many blacks' resentment of America's majority-white society stemming from their ancestors' enslavement in centuries past.

In 'Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America,' McWhorter writes, 'The cult of victimology encourages the black American from birth to fixate upon remnants of racism and resolutely downplay all signs of its demise.'

He continues: 'The rules other Americans are expected to follow are suspended out of a belief that our victimhood renders us morally exempt from them. É In black culture, victimology subtly makes criminality seem excusable Ñ and even 'cool' as a fight against the onslaught supposedly endured daily by all black Americans.'

How do family instability and victim psychology relate to the fate of Kendra James?

Directly. James' mother and father broke up when she was a child. Absent the steadying influence of married, biological parents, she dropped from school into the chaotic 'street' culture of crack use and victimologist contempt for 'white authority.'

Living in the kind of inner-city neighborhood (as per Wilson) 'filled with many sexual men but few committed fathers,' she bore two children out of wedlock.ÊAnd she had been arrested for robbery, identity theft and narcotics possession.

What if James had grown up with biological parents who had stayed married, in a neighborhood of positive adult role models, in a culture free of victimologist resentment?ÊShe less likely would have been an unwed teen mother, a crack addict and a habitual criminal.

On May 5, she less likely would have been with a drug user at a motel known for drug deals; she less likely would have sought to flee a policeman.ÊAnd she most likely would be alive today.

Blacks' trouble with the law is rooted not in 'racist' law enforcement but in self-defeating, antisocial pathologies Ñ which they themselves have the power to change. Once blacks routinely form and maintain stable, two-parent families and end their reflexive mistrust of their white fellow Americans, tragedies like James' Ñ and black crime as a whole Ñ will decline dramatically.

Richard F. LaMountain is a former writer for and editor of the national magazine Conservative Digest.ÊHe lives in downtown Portland.