As I speak to young black voters about Tuesday’s primary elections, I am struck both by their cynicism and their hope.
Despite their divergent opinions , I’ve learned that there is one opinion black millennials share in common. They don’t want to be peppered with stories of those who died to give them the vote.
While older people who remember the Civil Rights era will vote based on such history, millennials in the age of Black Lives Matter are living their history now.
It’s a hard truth for middle-aged African Americans like myself to accept, but it is the truth just the same. Therefore, when young blacks ask me why they should vote to decide who will represent them as their mayor and council members, as their judges and city commissioners, my answer is simple. Don’t vote because young blacks were dying 50 years ago. Vote because they’re dying right now.
Nearly 40 percent of the almost 1400 shooting victims last year in Philadelphia were between 18 and 25. Three out of five Philadelphia shooting victims were black, nine out of 10 were male, and though most of them survived being shot, all of them will live with that trauma for the rest of their lives.
And when someone did lose their life to homicide in Philadelphia last year, more than half of the murders went unsolved. The homicide clearance rate has improved sine then, but even one unsolved murder is too many.
From a political standpoint, the mayor is responsible for the police department, because he appoints the police commissioner. But City Council is also responsible, because along with the Mayor, Council determines the budget.
So if you’re young and black, and you’ve seen violence affect you and your family, you must do more than take responsibility for your own life and safety. You must also know that your political representatives are responsible for running the criminal justice system, for prioritizing how money is spent, and for making sure your lives are valued enough to seek justice when homicides occur. All of which means you should vote. Not because young blacks were being shot and killed 50 years ago. You should vote because young blacks are being shot and killed right now.
Young people of color must also have long memories, because within your lifetime, many candidates, including the current mayor, have promised to end Stop and Frisk. But if you’re one of the thousands of black and brown people who still get stopped for nothing, still get searched for weapons, still get embarrassed and profiled, you know Stop and Frisk still exists. So don’t vote because that promise was broken yesterday. Vote because it’s broken every day.
But the danger to young black people who refuse to vote goes beyond criminal justice. It also goes to economics.
If you’re a young black renter in a gentrifying community, you are the most likely to be forced into a less desirable neighborhood. Because, as a 2017 study by the Fed found, low cost rental units in gentrifying neighborhoods are disappearing at almost five times the rate of other neighborhoods.
Therefore, if your neighborhood is getting richer and your pockets are getting lighter, that’s the result of political decisions that allow neighborhoods to split along socioeconomic lines. So if you’re a young black renter, don’t vote because there was segregation yesterday. Vote because we’re moving toward segregation now.
But if all else fails, vote because of the violence that has taken young black lives in Philadelphia, including violence at the hands of police.
Vote because Brandon Brown can’t. Vote because Jeffrey Dennis can’t. Vote because David Jones can’t. Vote because if you don’t, you might be the next victim of police violence who can’t.
This election day in Philadelphia, young black voters are the ones with the most to lose, and they should be the first in line to vote.
Listen to Solomon Jones weekdays from 7 to 10 am on WURD Radio 900 AM and 96.1 FM