When you stroll along the streets of New Orleans you might happen to pass a small Christian community with a nice church. Right beside the church on a brick wall you see a large board with the names of 210 people written on it.
he first row was printed the further names are added in handwriting with a marker. These are the names of the New Orleans murder victims of 2007.
It is an unsettling observation, especially because most of the names mention African-American males between 18 and 30. Somebody must have hung the board there. It was the pastor of the community. And he can well explain why he and his team did so. “People have to notice that this crime rate is outrages”, he tells. “That’s why we have put the board out there.” During the first days the people of the neighbourhood got upset. They didn’t want to be obviously linked to crime and murder. Then the attitude of a lot of people slowly started to change. Mothers of murder victims approached the priest and thanked him because finally her dead sons were given a name. They became publicly visible through this act of witnessing the pastor enabled by putting out this board.
What did it tell to the community? “Poverty is the prime engine behind violence”, the priest explains, “coming along with the total disruption of the patterns of cultural and social life in this city”. This disruption has started early when the Interstate was build and the white people could move out to the nice suburbs to live there and commute into the city for work while the Blacks got stuck. And it experienced a final big boost through Hurricane Katrina. “A lot of people in this city feel abandoned”, farther Luis says. And those who do not feel alike don’t want to become part of this. “They make them them, not us.” They exclude and thereby segregate. And so they pretend that this violence is restricted to a special group of people who does it to themselves and it is their problem.
This is one story of the ‘you’ people in the USA. People who are regarded as belonging to a different group than oneself (“you people are different from us”). People who are expected to behave differently (“you people always do these things”). People who are patronized by others instead of helped (“you people have to …”). It seems to be a story of the ‘you’ people, but it is also the story of the ‘we’ people. We all suffer from violence and crime and disintegration. Our community does as well as our society.
One of the captions of the civil rights movement in the U.S. goes: “Movements do not begin with movements. Movements begin with individuals.” That is as true today as it was decades ago. It’s not a story about the ‘you’ people, it’s one about the ‘we’ people who have to be addressed.