BY BOROUGH PRESIDENT ERIC L. ADAMS
How do we comprehend the evil that metastasizes into violence, tearing a gaping hole in our communities? Once again, in the wake of deadly terrorism committed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Brooklynites find themselves asking this question.
When we awoke on the morning of June 18 to learn nine African-Americans had been murdered inside an enduring symbol of black life in the American South, many of us felt the hatred of historic racial division in this nation rearing its head anew. That head took the form of a 21-year-old suspected perpetrator, leading people to ask, “How could someone so young harbor so much hate?”
Evil’s source often comes down to a question of nature versus nurture. A select number of individuals are born predisposed to committing violent acts, based on hereditary factors. In addition, we know that the environment someone is exposed to growing up or significant trauma they experience can create hate.
Nurture, comparatively to nature, is something our society can more ably address, better ensuring that we create safe places for young people to learn and grow in a holistically healthy way.
Consider Dylann Roof, who is now behind bars for the murder of those nine innocent souls in Charleston. It has been alleged that his father was verbally and physically abusive to his stepmother during their 10-year marriage.
For Dylann’s 21st birthday, it has been reported that same man gifted Roof a .45 caliber pistol. This was a high school dropout with no job, who casually noted on his website that “growing up, in school, the white and black kids would make racial jokes toward each other.”
Evil may have genetic sources, but detailed and thought-out racism, or any other form of bias, does not. When you unpack hatred and all of its roots, you are left with the seed of hate, which is cultivated by abuse, neglect and an exposure to violence.
If you read the chilling words of Dylann Roof’s online manifesto, you see he is not an uneducated young man. Rather, the education he should have received from well-rounded schooling and a wholesome home life was replaced by individuals like Adolf Hitler. Teachings like his, in the absence of others, led this seed of hate to blossom into manifested terror.
There are real lessons to take from this, lessons that can save lives and unite us more closely as One Brooklyn. Needless to say, instead of placing the cold steel of a gun in a young person’s hand, we should be offering the warm hand of friendship and mentorship.
We must adopt the oft-repeated African proverb that “it takes a village to raise a child” as real-world practice, offering services to support struggling families and wraparound care at our schools that includes low-cost access for community-based programming.
We must also shatter the stigma of addressing mental health concerns in every community, with the understanding that early intervention is the safest approach for individuals and all those they touch.
Going further, we must actively remove symbols and messages of hate, and what leads to it, from our discourse. The fear of an uncertain future, coupled with misplaced frustration toward others, can lead to dangerous hate.
We don’t have to leave Brooklyn to witness this. Children hear what is being said at home and in society, and what they may internalize should alarm us. Believe it or not, we are radicalizing our own youth in America. This moment compels us to crush the seed of hate to save the lives it might yet claim.
Eric L. Adams is Brooklyn borough president.