December 3, 2004

Commentary

A Hanging Right Here in America’s Finest City

By Ernie McCray

Nothing in life has bothered me more than what’s happening to Jerome Silvels, a young black man who has already had one trial and faces another for a murder he neither committed or knew was going to be committed.

Jerome woke up on the morning of the tragedy and went about his day as someone who, as a teenager, did something that’s not at all easy to do. He walked away from a neighborhood gang and evolved, over nine years, into a learner, a contributor, a loyal friend, a devoted son, a loving dad, a man who works wonders with children, a model citizen, an exemplary human being.

On the evening of this fateful day Jerome went out to party with some friends and found himself, suddenly, in a predicament over which he had no control. A gun was drawn and a mother’s child, another in a long list of black boys, was taken from her. Oh, it tears my heart out.

But Jerome didn’t do it. And he never saw it coming. And it was all laid out in court how innocent he is, and six people, obviously not Jerome’s peers, saw fit to convict him and he wrote to me: “During the whole trial ‘not one’ person said that I did anything criminal. I didn’t fight. I didn’t shoot. I didn’t have a gun or any weapon, I didn’t even speak or throw up any gang signs. It seemed that the whole trial was all about my past, my childhood friends, the gang culture as far as the language and certain clothes people ‘choose’ to wear.”

So, what’s up with that? You hang a young black man as a “gangbanger” when he has been free of gangs over ten years? You go after somebody who has set goals for his life, somebody who seeks a college degree so he can become a probation officer and continue doing great things in his community? Whoa, I thought Jerome’s kind of turnaround was what we, as a society, wanted from troubled young people. Hey, people with stories like Jerome are invited to Chicago to sit and chat with Oprah - on a stage where Hip Hop superstar millionaires of all colors have appeared rapping gang inspired language and wearing gang inspired fashions.

So that shouldn’t even come up in court. Try to go to a mall and determine who is or isn’t a gangsta.

“Unnerstan’ what ah’m sayin’?”

And it’s all going down in “America’s Finest City” and ain’t that a pity? But maybe this injustice is par for the course in a town that: doesn’t count all its votes; robs its pension fund; and does business with an organization like the Boy Scouts of America which discriminates against atheists and gays openly and proudly and loudly.

“America’s Finest City” has got some soul searching and reflecting to do and part of the agenda should center on”race and justice.” I cannot help but think that here in San Diego Jerome is just another black man in “lockdown” - being tried again for a crime he shouldn’t have been tried for the first time.

With such thoughts I’m reminded how the lynchings in our country’s dark past were carried out while the authorities and the press and witnesses stood silently in the shadows. In this modern day lynching our DA and our press and our witnesses are standing silently in the shadows. But the silence is deafening and frightening to me because I have cried out against this injustice against Jerome Silvels - to no detectable avail.

Seeing this young man role model for black kids and, indeed, all kids, what being a good citizen is all about heartens me immeasurably. But then seeing him face prison for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time under the worst of circumstances, pains me immeasurably.

But, hey, how about those Chargers, huh?

Ernie McCray is a retired San Diego Citys School’s principal.

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