Pandas elicit more concern than poor

The Washington PostApril 28, 2014 

Imagine the uproar if a stray bullet had hit the panda.

The Easter Monday shooting in front of the National Zoo in Washington was a big deal for some because of where it happened, and because of who or what could have been shot – a tourist, a resident of the upscale Woodley Park neighborhood or, God forbid, a mammal.

For some, that two young black people got shot – and only in the hand and arm – might elicit exasperation.

On Easter Sunday, three black men were shot and wounded in the Anacostia area, near the historic home of Frederick Douglass in Southeast Washington. The gunman had fired at least 20 times, spraying errant rounds in disregard for the families that live on the street.

Anybody remember that?

An 8-year-old girl was critically injured in February by a stray bullet. She was walking home after visiting an aunt in Southeast Washington when a black man pulled a gun and started firing indiscriminately at three men he had been arguing with.

Like the shooting near the Douglass house, it also has been all but forgotten.

Three shots fired on Connecticut Avenue NW vs. 20 on Cedar Street SE and an 8-year-old girl shot in the chest. Yet crime uptown is what resonates for many. We’ve come to accept violence in poorer neighborhoods as the norm.

In February, President Barack Obama launched a collective effort to help at-risk young men that he actually called “My Brother’s Keeper.” Was he being serious or just mocking our selfishness?

“We know young black men are twice as likely as young white men to be ‘disconnected' – not in school, not working,” Obama said when he kicked off the initiative at a White House ceremony Feb. 27. “We’ve got to reconnect them.”

That disconnect often has a direct connection to crime. But surely the president knows that those young black men did not disconnect themselves. They were cut loose.

“We’re dealing with complicated issues that run deep in our history, run deep in our society and are entrenched in our minds,” Obama said. “And addressing these issues will have to be a two-way bargain. Because no matter how much the community chips in, it’s ultimately going to be up to these young men and all the young men who are out there to step up and seize responsibility for their own lives.”

Obama said earlier that he had talked to Colin Powell, a former general and secretary of state, “about the fact that there are going to be some kids who just don’t have a family at home that is functional, no matter how hard we try. . . . But just an adult, any adult who’s paying attention, can make a difference. Any adult who cares can make a difference.”

The District of Columbia probably has more mentoring and tutoring programs per capita than any place in the world. But there didn’t appear to be any chaperons around on Easter Monday?

So far this year, the homicide rate in Washington is up 75 percent over the same time in 2013.

At the White House event, Obama cited other all-too-familiar data about the social and academic failure of many young black men. Then he made an astute observation:

“The worst part is we’ve become numb to these statistics,” he said. “We’re not surprised by them. We take them as the norm. We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is.”

That is the District of Columbia mentality in a nutshell. Across the city’s great economic divide, many have become detached from the neediest residents.

In the nation’s capital, in one of the wealthiest, most educated, most resource-rich areas in the country, the de facto solution to poverty has been to let economics do the dirty work.

“Today, I’m pleased to announce that some of the most forward-looking foundations in America are looking to invest at least $200 million over the next five years – on top of the $150 million that they’ve already invested – to test which strategies are working for our kids and expand them in cities across the country,” Obama had said.

That may sound like a lot – until you remember that, in 2011, billionaire David Rubenstein gave the National Zoo $4.5 million just for the panda program.

Some lives truly are more valuable than others.

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