Last week, Clutch reported that a Brooklyn girl, 17-year-old Ta’Jae Warner, was beaten to death by a group of teens, with no apparent motive, last Friday. “She had no enemies. She never really went outside,”Ta’Jae Warner explained in an interview, while choking back tears. This story was especially hard for me to read because I could’ve been Ta’Jae Warner.
I spent the vast of majority of my childhood roaming my neighborhood and carelessly playing with friends. In the mostly Hispanic, New York suburb where I spent much of my early adolescence, I never once witnessed a fight between children or even heard yelling or screaming between children. That immediately changed when my mother decided to pack up and move myself– and her two other children– to Houston, Texas in search of more opportunity. Within a year of living in the mostly black, neighborhood, I witnessed a man beat his wife, get jumped by two other men who put a shotgun to his face, I saw over 5 fights and I became the target for harassment and violence by other girls in the community.
One particular instance always stands out in my mind. After my mom left home to work the night-shift, a group of nearly 50 teens showed up at my doorstep for an impending brawl, that I, unknowingly, was meant to be the headliner of. Unfamiliar with the idea of fighting or even committing acts of violence against others, I was overwhelmed, confused and, of course, scared. My sister stepped up on my behalf and opened the door to confront the teens.
“You should all be ashamed of yourselves,” she said plainly, and slammed the door shut.
Within moments, one of the teens hurled a rock through our window, shattering it into pieces. My sister, brother and I huddled around the telephone. We called the police.
“Do you see any weapons?” They questioned.
“No,” we responded. Then there was the sound of dial tone.
We called my uncle.
“I’m at work,” he stated bluntly, before rushing off the phone.
We were alone; meant to fend for ourselves. When the teens realized we would not come outside, they left. But I would not be spared from constant harassment, threats and violence for the remainder of the time my family lived in that neighborhood. I felt alone, isolated and without any protection. On multiple occasions, I was forced into fights that I did not start or care to partake in. Fighting and violence was just a way of life and there was nothing to protect me from it.
Evidence suggests that Black youth are significantly more likely to not only experience, but also be victims of violent crimes. According to The National Center for Victims of Crime:
“Black youth are three times more likely to be victims of reported child abuse or neglect, three times more likely to be victims of robbery, and five times more likely to be victims of homicide. In fact, homicide is the leading cause of death among African-American youth ages 15 to 24.”
The website goes on to explain that urbanism exacerbates these realities:
“Living in urban environments also increases the risk of exposure to violence and one-quarter of low-income, urban youth have witnessed a murder. In one study of inner-city 7-year-olds, 75 percent had heard gunshots, 60 percent had seen drug deals, 18 percent had seen a dead body outside, and 10 percent had seen a shooting or stabbing at home. In a Chicago study, approximately 25 percent of Black children reported witnessing a person shot and 29 percent indicated that they had seen a stabbing. After one of the children participating in this study described the violent deaths of seven close family members, an eight-year-old remarked that “just” three people in her family had died violently. Such family and community violence is most often perpetrated by persons known to the youth, and is likely to be reoccurring—creating potentially greater harm to a developing child than would a one-time incident of victimization.”
The exacting toll of violence on black children’s development, psychological and physical well-being is worsened by the perception that children perceive institutions to be unwilling to intervene on their behalf. And many black children do not have the support of extended families and come from single-parent households where their mothers work and are often unavailable to provide protection.
“Youth who are victimized during the complicated transitional period of adolescence may experience serious disruption of their developmental processes. These effects are worsened when youth perceive institutions as unwilling or unable to help or protect them, and adults’ failure to intercede confirms youth victims’ sense that they must cope with an unsafe environment by themselves and leads to delayed reporting and recovery for youth. After victimization, child and teen victims—just as with victims of any age group—often need counseling, advocacy, shelter, safety planning, emotional support, criminal and civil remedies, and other interventions that may mitigate the harm caused by violence. Experts agree that early identification of children exposed to victimization is key to successful intervention and resiliency. Even if children who experience violence do not display obvious signs of trauma or distress, they need to know that caregivers understand the importance and impact of what they experienced; they need reassurances about safety and adult efforts to protect them, and a return to normalcy.
Like many Black youth who witness or endure physical violence and abuse, I was not awarded protection or provided counseling or other support to help me process the violence I experienced in that neighborhood. However, luckily,after realizing the difficult time I was having in the environment, my mother decided we would move– despite the huge toll that took on her finances. For some children, there is no relief. They will be forced to endure these hardships alone. Some may even lose their lives to this violence, as Ta’Jae Warner did. Others will lose their freedom and dignity to the prison system for participating in the very same violence that has become a common part of existence in their environments.
The death of Ta’Jae Warner should serve as a wake up call to Black America. How many more children must lose their lives to interracial violence before we acknowledge that something major must be done? Before we demand accountability from the police when they refuse to show up to protect young black children? Before we see the importance of mediation and intervention on behalf of children who are the victims of violent crimes or witnesses to them? Or demand better counseling services to help these kids heal? Violence is destroying the lives of black children and our institutions are failing to provide black children with protection from it.
No child should ever die alone and helpless. There is nothing we can do to give Ta’Jae Warner a second chance at life, or her murderer(s) a second chance at freedom. But we most certainly must do something to ensure that black children are protected from violence in the first place.