© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Black Men Who Are Crime Victims Have Few Places To Turn


An advocate for victims of violent crime is asking a provocative question. Danielle Sered wonders, what if the young black men who died in police confrontations in Ferguson and Staten Island had actually survived, alive but injured?

DANIELLE SERED: What would we have done as a country for these men? And the truth is in all likelihood, we wouldn't have done much.

GREENE: NPR's Carrie Johnson reports on the lack of services for many black survivors and the people who are trying to change that.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Six years ago, a basketball standout named Aswad Thomas took a nighttime walk to the corner store in Hartford, Conn.

ASWAD THOMAS: I was confronted and assault by two men. I was shot two times in the back and left to die.

JOHNSON: The store clerk called 911.

THOMAS: I suffered two collapsed lungs. I suffered from internal bleeding, temporary paralysis, dislocated shoulder. I was in bad shape.

JOHNSON: His hopes of playing professional basketball in Europe were over. But after three weeks in the hospital, Thomas pulled through, only to find no one would help him with the physical and emotional aftermath.

THOMAS: You know, you go through depression, a lot of stress and, you know, you're not motivated in life. You already have to do the physical rehabilitation and you're kind of secluded. You don't have anywhere to go or anyone to turn to actually to have, you know, therapy conversations to help you along your journey.

JOHNSON: Thomas says half the men in his family have been victims of crime. The CDC says homicide is the leading cause of death for black men age 10 to 24. Black men are also disproportionately targets of armed robberies and other violence. But advocates like Danielle Sered say there are few places for those men to turn.

SERED: The absence of services not only means their concrete needs don't get met after they've been hurt. But it also means we send a message that their pain probably doesn't exist, and if they're hurting, it was probably their own fault.

JOHNSON: Sered says as a white woman who experienced sexual assault in her teens, she always knew there were people to help her. Now she runs the Common Justice program in Brooklyn. The group helps people move and find schools and work. Common Justice also offers support for black men, like 30-year-old Donnell Penny.

DONNELL PENNY: Be honest when you talk about how harmful - or harmed youth - or harmed colored youth, right? - you're talking about me.

JOHNSON: Penny came to Common Justice as a participant. But for the past year and a half, he's been leading a men's group, serving as what he calls a credible messenger.

PENNY: If you come in there with a golden Rolex and a Benz, I don't believe that you've been through anything I've been through, you know? You have to show me in some way that you've been in this situation and you've made it out.

JOHNSON: Not only are there few credible programs for black men who survive violence, people in need don't know where to find them.

PENNY: Honestly, if I walked outside right now and I spoke to some people in my neighborhood, and I was like, yo, if you were to get robbed right now, who would you speak to? And I'm sure they wouldn't have any programs or anything in their head out the blue. It wouldn't happen, but they could tell me where to get the new iPhone from because it's promoted.

JOHNSON: And then, Penny says, there's another obstacle - fear of being seen as weak.

PENNY: There's really not a lot of places that we feel safe to express ourselves as young men of color. There's not. It's like you feel that you're giving out weakness. And weakness, we've learned through our experiences, will get you attacked.

JOHNSON: Bottling up those emotions can perpetuate emotional and physical problems, Sered says. And it can continue the cycle of violence when hurt people hurt others.

PENNY: Well, the fact that people who commit harm have been hurt doesn't get them off the hook, it puts us on the hook. It begs the question of where we were when they were hurt.

JOHNSON: Remember Aswad Thomas, who nearly died in that shooting in Connecticut? He just earned a master's degree in social work. This week, he's moving out West to work with a group called Californians for Safety and Justice.

THOMAS: Given the right services and resources, I think you will hear many more stories of individuals who went through a traumatic incident was able to overcome that and be able to do something positive.

JOHNSON: Thomas says he'll try to connect people in high-crime areas with grant money and services. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.