While the public reaction to the shooting death of Mario Hornsby, Jr. on May 17th was one of genuine outrage over the epidemic of violence in our community and of care and sympathy for the bereaved family and friends of Hornsby, the reaction of some has revealed much about the level people will stoop to in order to attract attention and to advance personal or political agendas.
As expected, there was intense coverage by the media and true to form, many quickly stepped up to comment on the incident and to use the tragedy to advance their agendas. Some unashamedly, used the Hornsby family’s tragedy to their own advantage. While those in public life need to utilize the media on occasion to advance a cause, some have become no more than media hounds with no underlying principled conviction to actually do the work of combating youth violence in our community.
At first public comments seemed genuine and empathetic toward the Hornsby family. However, some actions quickly became more political and calculating. I can’t help but wonder if those who made comments to the media, held press conferences, or announced initiatives in response to the tragedy will follow through on proposed actions and continue to regard violence in Springfield as an important issue once the glare of the camera lights have dimmed and funding opportunities are no longer available.
True activism continues long after the media cameras have been turned off and the reporters have moved on to the next issue. For example, a coalition of individuals and groups worked diligently to bring ward representation to the city in a hard fought battle that took twelve years and two lawsuits to come to fruition. Work continued on the issue after it ceased to be a hot media topic. I can’t help but wonder what would have become of the “Save Our Community Centers” project or the “Cosby” Initiative if they hadn’t fizzled out in less than a year? Remember COMMUNITY ’97 or the recent call for a “state of emergency” around youth violence? Each of these were altruistic initiative that were supposed to better our community, however, followed a predictable pattern of dying shortly after the press conference ended. Our community is weary of hearing leaders pontificate only to see no real action or measurable progress. As one young lady stated at a recent Community Conversation on Youth Violence Prevention held at the W.W. Johnson Life Center, “I’m tired of hearing y’all talk, why don’t y’all just be like Nike and JUST DO IT!”
As a city we must transcend “action,” which merely consist of holding press conferences, rallies and forums and get down to the nitty gritty of addressing the contextual factors that influence incidents of violence and reactions to it. It is imperative that we understand the circumstances under which violence, as a learned form of social behavior, has been construed as legitimate or even appropriate by young people.
It is my prayer that Mario Hornsby’s death will serve to raise our awareness of the causes of violent actions and result in more safety-conscious policies and practices. Our city must balance finite resources against validated problems and needs in order to direct resources to the actual problems. We must look past the headlines and the emotions, and focus on responses that will address immediate needs in a consistent and deliberate manner.