The Young Black Boy Whose Life Mattered
He was too young to die — where were the media trucks? Where were the protesters?
His name was Kingston Frazier. He was a six-year-old, African-American boy from Jackson, Mississippi, the state capitol. He was a good kid growing up in a tough neighborhood.
“He was all outgoing,” as a family friend described him. “He didn’t wanna be serious about anything. He just liked to have lots of fun.”
Frazier’s mom took a late-night trip to the local supermarket last week. She went into the store, left the car running, and left Kingston in the car. It would be a decision she’d regret the rest of her life. She would never see her boy again. Three young black men are now in custody, charged with killing him.
The media spent mere minutes on the tragic story. CNN didn't show up with a media truck. There were no marches called for in Jackson. Black Lives Matter didn't make a fuss. White liberals weren't up in arms, either. We all know why.
Kingston Frazier wasn't killed by someone white. Or a white cop.
"Just drop him off at the store," the police chief pleaded with the men who stole the car.
That's the real racism on exhibit in our media. In our country. A young black life doesn't seem to matter when it's taken by young black men.
That's what makes Kingston Frazier's story so sad. Too few people seem to care about this boy, who was too young to die. Too few people seem to care about the tens of thousands of young black men in this country who were too young to die.
The last time his mother saw him, Kingston was asleep in the back seat of her 2000 silver Toyota Camry at a Kroger parking lot. Moments after she entered the store, two men in a two-door Honda Civic pulled up alongside her running car, and a passenger jumped in. Both vehicles sped away. Her car had been stolen. Kingston was still in the back seat.
It was just after 1:00 a.m. It would be the longest night of her life. And the last night of his.
An Amber alert was issued. The local news pounded away at the story, asking viewers to be on the lookout. Hours passed and darkness turned to light. Jackson police chief Lee Vance held an early morning press conference. "Just drop him off at the store," Vance pleaded with the men who stole the car. There was real desperation in his voice.
David Archie begged for his nephew's safe return. "We're just asking, regardless of who you are, what you are and where you are, if you could just return the child." Archie wasn't finished. "He doesn't even know what's going on. This is a six-year-old innocent child."
Hours later, the family got the news they'd most feared: Police found the stolen car abandoned in a muddy ditch about 15 miles north of the Kroger parking lot. Frazier was shot at least once. He was dead, slumped in the back seat.
"All they had to do is let this kid off on the side of the road, a grocery store, a church, anywhere," a local sheriff said. "But they chose to kill the kid."
When Kingston's mom heard the news, she collapsed. She had to be carried away from the district attorney's office.
"A six-year-old is gone," Kingston's cousin Kolby Irby told reporters. "His mother has to deal with this the rest of her life. That was her baby."
Kingston's great aunt, Velma Eddington, talked to the press. She was thankful for all of the prayers from around the state, and added this: "That baby hadn't done nothing. They could have left that child on that back seat, asleep. They didn't have to kill him. We need to find the people who did this. It's evil what they did."
It didn't take long to find the suspects. Three young African-American males were arrested and taken into custody. Madison County District Attorney Michael Guest announced authorities plan to charge Byron McBride, D'Allen Washington, and Dwan Wakefield with the child's murder. All three are black. One is 19; the other two are 17. None had a criminal record. They will be charged as adults, and with a capital murder charge comes the option for prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
Those three boys have parents, too, and loved ones. Their actions that night ended their lives, too. It's a tragedy all the way around.
How did it all happen? So many people in this story made so many terrible choices. Why was the mom up at 1:00 am? Why was she running to Kroger with her son? Didn't she have anyone at home to watch him? What was the emergency? And why in God's name did she leave a child in the back seat with the car running in a dangerous neighborhood in the middle of the night?
It's a national tragedy. If white people were gunning down white kids at these rates, the media would be talking about it incessantly.
Where was the boy's father? What was he doing when all of this happened? We heard from him the next day — and he was justifiably filled with rage. But where was he? Why wasn't he the one making that run to Kroger while the mother stayed home with her son?
And what about those three boys? What were they doing out at 1:00 a.m.? Where were their parents? What possessed them to steal a car? And why in God's name did they decide to kill that innocent boy? No one will ever be able that last question, not even the boys themselves.
Tragic stories like this play out in the small city of Jackson — population 170,000 — every few days. A city that's a mere two-hour drive from my hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, has a majority black population (79 percent), a black mayor, a black police chief, and a majority black city council. It had the distinction this past year of being ranked the sixth most-dangerous city in America.
An hour north of Oxford, the city of Memphis is worse. A city of 650,000, it was ranked last year by Forbes as the fourth most-dangerous city in America. There is a majority black population (63 percent), and the crime is so bad that the local paper, the Commercial Appeal, actually has a homicide tracker.
This year alone, there have been 84 murders in Memphis. Sixty-nine victims were male and 13 female. The offenders were overwhelmingly black, male, and young, too. Last year, 228 murders were reported in Memphis. Nearly 200 of them were of black men whose lives were cut short by other black men.
It's a national tragedy. If white people were gunning down white kids at these rates, the media would be talking about it incessantly. So would white people. Think Columbine, Aurora and Newton — and multiply those death by the thousands.
It's Newton, Columbine and Aurora every week in inner cities across America.
Here are some horrifying facts:
- In 2012, white males made up 38 percent of the population and committed 4,582 murders. That same year, black males were 6 percent of the population but committed 5,531 murders. Black males — at just 20 percent the size of their white counterparts — committed almost 1,000 more murders. And their victims were mostly young black males.
- Despite making up just 13 percent of the population, Department of Justice statistics show that blacks committed 52 percent of all homicides in the country between 1980 and 2008. And blacks were more than half of the victims.
- In Chicago, the death toll from 2001 to 2015 was nearly as high as the death toll from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Just over 7,400 lives were lost in Chicago over that time period, while 8,321 soldiers were killed in the two wars. To call the streets of Chicago a war zone is not an exaggeration.
Behind every number is a name, a real life cut short, with loved ones and siblings left behind, forever scarred. The amount of God-given talent lost in the crossfire is heartbreaking.
Lives lost at the point of the gun. Lives lost holding the gun. Lives lost to long prison sentences — and sometimes even death sentences. It's enough to make anyone weep.
Racism alone can't explain it. Black crime rates were lower in the 1940s and 1950s, when black poverty was higher and racial discrimination was rampant and, in many states, legal. Economics and lack of jobs can take us part of the way. But black teenagers weren't killing each other on the streets in the Great Depression.
There is a growing consensus among social scientists on the left and the right about the primary driver of the tragedy: out-of-wedlock births. In 1925 in New York City, 85 percent of black families were two-parent. In 1940, black illegitimacy stood at 14 percent. It rose to 25 percent by 1965, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action." The Democrat from New York was widely condemned as a racist. By 1980, the black illegitimacy rate had more than doubled, to 56 percent — and it is now a shocking 73 percent today.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist, let alone a social scientist, to begin to make connections about the relationship between that last shocking figure and the high rates of violent crimes being committed by young black males. Young men — and entire communities — without fathers do not possess the kind of masculine love necessary to keep young men in line, to keep community safety a priority.
And the out-of-wedlock rate is growing in the Hispanic and white communities, too. The problem transcends race.
The issue has been seen as the defining problem in the black community by at least one prominent black opinion-shaper: the late William Raspberry, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post columnist. Back in 2005, he was as blunt about the elephant in the room when it came to race, class and crime in America.
"Father absence is the bane of the black community, predisposing its children to school failure, criminal behavior, and economic hardship, and to an intergenerational repetition of the grim cycle," he wrote.
The real problem, Raspberry concluded, alongside some of the top ministers in the African-American community who'd just met in Washington to call attention to the issue, was the decline of marriage. Indeed, he pointed out that some youth workers in black neighborhoods know children who'd never seen a wedding.
Raspberry expressed little tolerance in the column for those who blame the low marriage rates on poverty, crime or racism:
Black men aren't born incarcerated, crime-prone dropouts. What principally renders them vulnerable to such a plight is the absence of fathers and their stabilizing influence. Fatherless boys (as a general rule) become ineligible to be husbands — though no less likely to become fathers — and their children fall into the patterns that render them ineligible to be husbands.
Raspberry wasn't finished, highlighting the impact marriage-less neighborhoods have on young girls, too: The absence of fathers means that girls lack both a pattern against which to measure the boys who pursue them and an example of sacrificial love between a man and a woman. As the ministers were at pains to say, it isn't the incompetence of mothers that's at issue but the absence of half of the adult support needed for families to be most effective. And then came Raspberry's conclusion:
America's almost reflexive search for outside explanations for our internal problems delayed the introspective examination that might have slowed the trend. What we have now is a changed culture — a culture whose worst aspects are reinforced by oversexualized popular entertainment and that places a reduced value on the things that produced nearly a century of socioeconomic improvement. For the first time since slavery, it is no longer possible to say with assurance that things are getting better.
CNN's Don Lemon articulated a similar position to Raspberry's a few years ago. "Black people," he said, "if you really want to fix the problem, here's just five things that you should think about doing."
The number-one item on Lemon's list, and probably the most important, had to do with out-of-wedlock births. "Just because you can have a baby, it doesn't mean you should," Lemon said. "Especially without planning for one or getting married first. More than 72 percent of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock. That means absent fathers. And the studies show that lack of a male role model is an express train right to prison, and the cycle continues."
Lemon's commentary inspired a firestorm of criticism on social media — the website Mediatite published a sampling — and bloggers took aim at his conclusions.
"If Lemon really wanted to help the black community, he could start by adopting a deeper understanding of the history, sociology and psychology of his own people," wrote Washington Post blogger Rahiel Tesfamariam. "Offering made-for-TV analysis about deeply complex social issues in the manner in which he did is irresponsible and lacks intellectual rigor."
But facts are stubborn things. And here's a fact that just may be the mother lode of all facts: A mere 6.9 percent of black married couples lives in poverty. And here's one more: Marriage drops the odds of being poor by over 80 percent.
Those two statistics should be plastered on every wall in every school in the inner city. Heck, in every school and every hall in America. Church leaders should be leading with those numbers too, and letting young girls know that the path to a better life means getting an education, getting married, and then having kids. And in that order. And letting young boys know that women are not sex toys for them to play with and toss away, and that real men who make children actually raise them.
Young people need their teachers, coaches, mentors, pastors and family members to rally around this simple idea: marriage matters.
"I am convinced," the late author and inspirational leader Stephen R. Covey once wrote, "that if we as a society work diligently in every other area of life and neglect the family, it would be analogous to straightening the deck chairs on the Titanic."
Covey wasn't talking about white or black families. He was talking about the American family. He was talking to all of us.
So let the cynics, the academics, and the naysayers continue to study the matter, and look for the underlying root causes that no one can change. The path forward is clear, and so is this truth: Nothing increases the chances of escaping poverty like marriage. That's not only a hopeful message but an empowering one. There are choices inner-city kids can make to improve their circumstances. They have the power — the agency — to change their own lives.
These young people need their teachers, coaches, mentors, pastors and family members to rally around this simple idea: Marriage matters. The love of a mother and father matters.
The country, too, is ready for a big discussion about marriage, as out-of-wedlock rates approach 40 percent for the entire country, and parts of rural America are beginning to exhibit characteristics eerily similar to our nation's inner cities.
It's a national emergency, and we need to talk about what America will look like in 25 years if we continue to head down the path of fewer marriages and more out-of-wedlock children.
Lee Habeeb is VP of content for Salem Radio Network and host of "Our American Stories." He lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his wife, Valerie, and his daughter, Reagan.