Alexus Purtty was a thirteen year old girl living with her mother in the north side of Saint Louis. On July 5th, she was stabbed with a steak knife by a twelve year old boy who lived with his sixty-one year old wheelchair bound father, who is sick from leukemia, just a few houses away from Alexus and her extended family.
According to the story in the local newspaper, Alexus Purtty’s mother invited the little boy that killed her daughter to attend a birthday party for one of her children. She was aware of the boy’s bleak situation and wanted to make a difference in his life. When the boy came into the Purtty home and saw all the things they owned, he probably was overcome with envy and made plans to get what he wanted the best way he knew how. Days before Alexus’ murder, the Purtty home was broken into. The night of the murder the boy was walking up and down the street taunting the Purtty family. The Purttys made a couple of phone calls to the police regarding the boy’s behavior. Alexus confronted him. There was an argument. The boy went home, got the steak knife, and returned to stab Alexus in the chest. The boy is now in custody facing second degree murder charges and the potential of becoming the youngest person in the Saint Louis area to be charged as an adult. A lot of people would be happy to simply lock the boy away and look for someone else to prosecute. But the boy is indicative of a deeper problem within the black community that a lot of people are too closed minded to examine.
The black on black crime story of a twelve year old boy stabbing to death a thirteen year old girl has become fodder for the local news agencies and garnered the attention of local political offices. The entire ordeal is just one more statistic for people to push proving the criminality of the black neighborhood. Politicians appeared at a vigil held in a vacant lot on the same city block that the murder took place. There were speeches made. The article was accompanied by a photo of a couple of Alexus’ cousins who lived out in the suburbs that surround the city. People were waving photos of Alexus in the air. Everybody was sympathetic and deplored the loss of two black children, one to the grave and the other lost to a judicial system that will continue his development into an even more hardened criminal.
During the vigil for Alexus, State Representative Rodney Hubbard made his speech urging residents to recover control of their neighborhoods. “Sure, we can point the finger and we can blame the police department, and we can blame the Mayor’s office, and we can blame the elected officials. But we need to take back control of our own community.”
But Alexus Purtty was just the latest of three murders that happened on this single Saint Louis street block. On June 10th, just a few houses further down the block, fifteen year old Shanneka Spraggins was shot while she was sitting on the front porch of her cousin’s house talking with a boy. No arrest has been made in her murder. On May 19th, forty-four year old Von T. Harrell was shot as he stood on the corner at the end of the block. He had been arguing with another man about a debt. Both men lived in the area. One is dead and one is going to prison.
At the end of the event, the politicians got in their cars and left the area leaving the people behind to deal with the conditions of the neighborhood on their own. Even the family members from the suburbs will leave their family members staying in the Purtty house alone in their neighborhood. The reporters will move on to their next story. You and I will find something else that will gain our attention. Just like Ms. Spraggins and Mr. Harrell, Alexus Purtty will be relegated to obscurity as everyone moves on to the next big thing. And the black community will continue to cope with the ever growing danger of the situation.
The article went on to talk about other people in the neighborhood and how their children are spending the summer in areas away from home. Children are going to spend their summers with family out in the suburbs. One woman, who worked at an office that loans people money by the week and charges exorbitant fees for their services, pays to keep her eleven year old son in daycare while she works. She sent her twelve year old daughter to live with family six blocks away. And her fourteen year old son was sent to live with relatives on the south side. The woman went on record to say, “It’s the only way you can do it, to keep your children safe.”
These people and many others who just like them are simply trying to eek out their existence in the black community. They dream of moving to the suburbs along with the rest of their family members. Black people will make the financial investment necessary to abandon their home and move elsewhere so that they can feel safer and get a better public education.
But chances are very good that eventually the new black neighborhoods out in the suburbs will meet the same fate as the old black neighborhoods in the city. The pressures that black people face in the city are the very same pressures we will face in the suburbs. The only difference is that living in the suburbs is more likely to cost financially more. A new home in a new neighborhood with new neighbors may feel like a fresh start. But as black people encroach on white neighborhoods, white people will move even further away and the neighborhood morphs into a semblance of its inner city counterpart.
A lot of people failed Alexus. Not only did the city officials, the police departments and the uncaring State Reps who saw an opportunity to score a few points and get some neighborhood exposure, but her family failed her as well. Her mother was standing right there as Alexus challenged the boy and did not intervene. Her cousins lived a world away in the suburbs oblivious to what the Purttys go through living in the city. Her neighbors who saw the boy walking through the street without parental guidance but looked the other way failed both children. I failed them. The entire black community failed them.
In order to be a community more people need to learn to live as a community. It takes a village to raise a child. More people have to make the choice to live as a village. Unfortunately, the things that make a community aren’t part of the American way. Too much of our society is based on individualism and the “get all you can before somebody else comes along and takes what should have been yours” philosophy.
Families are becoming communities in themselves these days. An entire family can develop the will to take back a city block house by house. While the attraction for a new house in the suburbs can be a strong one, it can be even more attractive to rebuild a community and take back that which many people give up as lost. Successful adaptation to the conditions that have been inflicted upon the black community will be its own reward, both financial and social. The steady social programming that African Americans have been given to abandon our history, our pride, our homes, our spirituality, and our neighborhoods is designed to keep black people in a perpetual state of chaos and disarray. Before the black community can be restored the social programming must be acknowledged. Once we are aware then we can learn to resist. Once we learn to resist, eventually it will be stopped. To do anything without breaking the programming will only leave us to repeat the process in a cycle that hasn’t stopped for more than four hundred years.