Leon Bibb reflects: Violence in Cleveland

Posted at 6:24 PM, Sep 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-16 18:24:25-04

I grew up in what is now one of the violence-peppered neighborhoods of Cleveland. However, during my youth in the 1950s and early 60s, I never knew of anyone who had been shot in the community. Nor had I ever heard of anyone who knew of someone who had been shot.

My neighborhood was, generally speaking, a garden of relative peace. It is far from that now. Almost nightly, the newscasts of my television station lead with the latest shooting. It is not just my old neighborhood in Cleveland. It could be other areas of the city, or the suburbs, or the rural areas of Northeast Ohio.

This week, a 3-year-old boy was shot and killed by someone who drove by the car in which the youngster sat. The gunman let loose a barrage of bullets which were fired from a moving car into that of the boy and a 24-year-old woman.

Once again, the flashing red and blue lights of police cars sped to the scene. So, too, did the Emergency Medical Squad ambulance. The boy, Major Howard, was rushed to the hospital, but the wounds were too much for him. He will never enjoy a first day of kindergarten, let alone a full life.

The woman who was with the boy was wounded and is recovering from her bullet wounds. 

Police said the gunfire from the passing car spanned almost half the block of Cleveland's East 113th Street.  At that moment, the street was a war zone. 

I did not grow up on that street, but I did grow up in the city. My family was part of the growing black middle class of the time and our neighborhood reflected the dreams of upward mobility by parents had sought. I suppose my father had witnessed enough gunfire in World War II in which he soldiered in Europe.

He, like millions of other veterans,  only wanted to return to the U.S. to begin a family and leave in peace. When I was the age of Major Howard, we moved into a neighborhood with a school across the street from our home, grocery stores and shops a quarter of a mile away, and a park of lush landscapes and bronze statues honoring the memories of great people.

That same neighborhood today is the scene of crime. Most of the people who live in the neighborhood are good people who want the same kind of peaceful lives my family found two generations ago. Something changed since those years and my old neighborhood is on the police crime blotter almost on a daily basis. The good people in that neighborhood, and hundreds of thousands of other communities like it, sequester themselves in their homes when violence erupts on the streets. All they want is to live in peace. 

But peace is often shattered by the violence. The death of Major Howard, who died not far from where I grew up, has sent a wave of revulsion through the community. The mayor and police chief of Cleveland called a news conference to voice their disgust with the murder of the boy. It was not only the death of 3-year-old Major Howard, but also the death of a 5-year-old only a few days before.

"There is something about innocence," said Mayor Frank Jackson as he talked about how the community was emotionally touched about the murder of the pre-schooler. There was emotion in his voice. Jackson spoke from the heart.

On the gunman, "we believe they crossed the line." The mayor said he and his chief of police were making recommendations. 

Police Chief Calvin Williams said he was encouraged that many people in the community had started "to step up" to eradicate and tap down the violence. "We have to do more and we are asking the public's help," said Williams.

The police chief asked the public to provide information as to who is responsible for the killing of the child. He asked for citizens to be more involved with police in bringing about safe conditions.

As a nation and as a local community, there is a wide wave of worry about the violence. Almost every newscast in every sizeable city looks the same with reports on shootings, robberies, arsons, assaults, rapes, and other crimes. These crimes have always been with us, but it seems they are in such abundance now that we cannot always mentally process the size of the problem. It is all around us. 

I believe the answers to our problems are in us. I believe we know what to do. We just need the guts to mobilize. In recent months, there have been voices from communities where black men have been killed in controversial shootings by white police officers that "black lives matter." All lives matter. Black lives. White lives, police lives matter. All lives matter. Life, itself, matters. All of us matter because life is precious.

We have to work together to bring peace to where we live. 

We all matter.