A White Man’s Experience of Black Lives NOT Mattering in NJ

In light of recent national events, I would like to share my personal experience with black lives not mattering.

I am sharing this in response to a number of (white) friends, who I love and respect, making online posts and commenting in personal conversations that, “all lives matter.” When I hear white people say, “all lives matter,” my gut feeling tells me that they do not understand where black people are coming from at this critical moment in our nation’s history.

From 2005-2008, I was a member of the City Council in Asbury Park, NJ, a majority-minority community. During my tenure on the council, there were 18 murders in a city of less than 20,000 people. These murders included a young man being gunned down in front of a youth center and a young man being gunned down less than a block from the Middle School at 11 o’clock in the morning.

Tylik Pugh was the young man who was killed so close to the Middle School. Immediately after his murder, I spent the entire day in the neighborhood listening to the fears, concerns, anger, etc. of people in the community.

We had a City Council meeting that night. I arrived to the closed Executive Session five minutes late. When I arrived, my City Council colleagues and the key staff were talking about… redevelopment on the waterfront. I apologized for being late and asked them if they had already discussed the tragedy that happened earlier that day.

They had not.

Their response to me was pathetic. They opined that nothing could be done. One fellow Council member said, “It’s the Hatfields and the McCoy’s, you’ll never stop it.” I asked him if he planned to tell that to the scared kids at the school and their equally frightened parents. The Mayor had not even planned to discuss it in the open public session.

An 18-year-old was murdered within fifty yards of our Middle School at 11 o’clock in the morning and the “leaders” of the community were not even going to officially discuss it.

Despite the fact that I was the “loyal opposition” to the Council majority, I wrote the Mayor’s statement for him to read when the meeting was opened to the public.

Could you imagine if this happened in a wealthy white NJ community like Spring Lake, Rumson, Deal…? Would the murder of an 18-year-old boy outside the Middle School at 11am go without comment by the elected leaders of those communities?

When black people hear stories like this, they ask, “Why don’t leaders speak out and act?” The answer they have felt in their hearts by the lack of words and actions of leaders when young black people are killed (most especially when they are killed by police officers) is that “black lives don’t matter.” Now, they are telling America with a clear voice that “black lives (DO) matter” and action is warranted.

So, I ask my friends and all reading this piece, please stop with “all lives matter” right now. Because the harsh truth is that since the start of our Republic, black lives haven’t mattered in the same way white lives have mattered, to think otherwise is to ignore history. It’s time we own this truth and work through this mess once and for all.

Peace, Jim Keady

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