05/31/2007 01:43 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Thinking about Canon

We suffered, in my small school community (Communication Arts and Sciences at Berkeley High), the tragic and premature death of a wonderful young man, Canon Jones, recently. While I was on my back deck celebrating my daughter's 26th birthday with family and friends, Canon was at a Bar-B-Que at Tuskegee. After he left and while walking to the store, he was stuck up by a young man and woman (both 18, both African American) who took his wallet and then shot him.

So I guess I'm in the middle of the reality, the horror, and perhaps don't have the clinical distance to interrogate the process. But I can say a few things. I went over to the CAS rooms on the fourth floor of the C-building at Berkeley High, filled with sadness. Canon was from a very low-income family, African American, Richmond. I used to drive him home sometimes after events -- worried about him walking from a bus. He was also afraid of getting killed in Richmond. We were so relieved when his efforts, and our urging and goal-pushing, led him to college at Tuskegee University. Canon was the stand-up guy, always positive, always supportive. The one to break up fights. The one to stay late to clean up. Best friend to Darcy -- you always saw them together. Darcy's mom says Canon had a plane ticket to come home on Friday.

CAS seniors had gathered (Canon had graduated last year but many seniors knew him). The counselor was leading things. People were telling good memories, good things about Canon. There were lots of tears and hugs. I was dissatisfied. I am angry that the counselors have a death protocol (so many deaths -- another student, a junior in CAS, was shot a month ago, wounded). I am tired of our efforts to make everyone "get over" it. I am critical of the idea that the death of another young African American male is something they need to deal with as a psychological burden.

I'm mad that Canon was killed. His death is not an individual moment. It is a social phenomenon. Part of the huge surge of gun murder, especially of young black men. I don't want the counselor to soothe our feelings. I don't want to talk about the "stages of grieving" as if they were some impersonal board game journey.

At the funeral in Richmond, seven hundred people showed up. Hundreds of young black men were in the audience. They were in pain for Canon. But they also had to be thinking: who's next? It wasn't me this time. . . will it be next time? That bullet killed Canon but it struck everyone in that church, it wounded us, it shot us in the heart. And it especially tore open a wound on those young men, who are living in a public health murder crisis.

I guess we all tell a story, and the story reflects our own position. And I suppose this is my culture, this is my way of framing and dealing with issues - by making a social analysis and urging social action (activism) to reverse the named ills (gun ownership, poverty, racism, etc.). That is my way of mourning.

Typically, I want to tell a story about Canon that reveals the workings of the political economy. I want to urge the people in the room to not mourn, rather organize, take action. I want to tell the story about black on black crime -- how young black men are killing more young black men every few years than lynching did in its 100 year reign during Reconstruction and after. Why this auto-genocide? Perhaps it comes from despair, and a sense of powerlessness -- after the defeat of the black liberation movement, it seems impossible to ever go up against the man. It is a form of suicide. As one poet said, "for a brother to kill a brother is like committing suicide with the hand of another."

Of course, the larger, white dominated, ruling elites have their own blood sacrifice. They kill on a wholesale level and with a degree of industrial efficiency. And somehow their apparently impenetrable power makes the oppressed turn in on themselves. And the complicity of the smug rulers is well hidden.

Nothing remains the same, though. So to continue naming the problem, to make some kind of social analysis, to provide a helpful story -- that seems worthwhile.

After all, the Sandinista teenagers who were so daring on the barricades during the Nicaraguan uprising of 1979 could have been using that same courage to defend turf and terrorize other poor people (see the Marta Salvatruchas). Before the Sandinista revolution, the number one cause of death for men in Nicaragua was murder, usually occurring with both parties under the influence of alcohol. Such internal social rage and destruction can be turned outward, be turned to a project that deals with the actual conditions, a project with the potential to transform potentialities.

In my opinion, that's what's Canon's memory deserves.