Dear Editor:

I am an African-American corrections officer who constantly comes into contact with many of the Pittsburgh youth from the Black community.

At one time I believed that the only way to reach our community was through the churches. I no longer think this is possible. I pay very close attention to how our community is represented, both from the media and the general public, and the one thing that I feel is that we, meaning Black adults, are in a particular denial that has infested the youth.

Pittsburgh has seen a disgusting rise in senseless youth homicides within the last 10 years, but the writing had been on the wall. We watched this happen to us. It’s our community. We saw other cities fall apart, via drugs and guns, and we celebrated it in the music and other media outlets such as movies and videos. Furthermore, radio stations seemed to stop playing anything decent and replaced it with what they deemed popular. We watched, listened and allowed this to occur even though, many of us hated it. The writing was on the wall.

I have made this observation and voiced it a few times to many of my peers, only to be told that it is this way because it is what the people want. I disagree. People are guided to think they want something. For instance, there was a time you could walk into any electronic store and purchase a television with a picture tube. The picture, obviously, doesn’t compare to an LCD flat screen, but it would do the job. All at once all of that ended. No choice for the consumer. If there was a choice of type of television one could purchase, I guarantee some people would choose the old model due to price as well as any number of reasons. The choice was taken away and people have been guided into a new way of thinking, living and applying their direction.

I simply do not believe everyone bought into the negative of the culture that was being totally represented everywhere. If you feed a person chipped ham every day of their life, they will eat, or perish, but the moment a second option is offered, especially if it is better than the old option, people will try it. And they will forever be changed.

We need to be represented as multifaceted. Everybody can’t be gangsters or players. It seems for the last 10 years, at least, others have seen us in that light. We have gone from needing to rise from the ills of the hood to being told by our peers that the hood is where it is at.

Also, the negative was being represented on MTV while showing the giant, over the top homes of many of the rappers. Many of these clowns on screen and record perpetuated the hood as some place to be, all the while moving out as soon as they made a dime. MTV wanted to make people think things had changed for the Black man by showing a few clowns that would rep both the street and American capitalism at its best. All the while American ghettos were war zones and poverty was insane throughout them. These dudes pimped the community as much as any Republican. And we watched. They talked about being pimps, and murder, murder, murder all the while in flight of the very community that they connected to. While we watched, our kids watched. Our kids looked up to these representatives of our community and they noticed how their fathers looked up to them, and how their mothers danced to the very songs that put them down. We watched this paint the walls of the community until it crossed all of the way over.

Now every Black community has a gang problem that wasn’t there 15 years ago. Guns are everywhere. Kids have no conscience. And I as a corrections officer-house, communicated and watch the writing on the walls as they go before Pennsylvania judges and juries, only to be condemned to Pennsylvania prisons for life, while we watch.

Rob Zellars
Pittsburgh, Pa.

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