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We don't seem to care about dead black youth

If gun violence is terrorism, then fight it like terror.

Mayor Nutter drew no line between city gun violence and domestic terrorism.
Mayor Nutter drew no line between city gun violence and domestic terrorism.Read more(ALEJANDRO ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

PHILADELPHIA'S suddenly climbing murder rate makes me turn to Mayor Nutter's startling remarks that the "gun violence" we suffer in Philadelphia is "domestic terrorism."

He let his emotions and frustration overrule his intellect.

"Domestic terrorism is international terrorism," Nutter said in a Washington interview after meeting with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"Domestic terrorism is international terrorism," he said. What does that even mean?

"There is really no level of distinction between the violence that goes on on the streets of America on a daily basis and the episodic acts of international terrorism," he said, trying to create a false equivalency.

There is a difference: motive.

My guess is that he was using hyperbole to draw attention to a stubborn, continuing problem.

Let's acknowledge that more Americans have been murdered in the streets, homes, campuses and theaters of America than have been killed by acts of international terrorism.

But numbers aren't the whole story. If you're just counting bodies, why not call the death toll on America's highways a form of domestic terrorism?

Oh, you can't do that! It's not the same thing, I hear some of you say. Neither are gun deaths.

Nutter's use of the T-word was a form of calculated hysteria. Generally speaking, "terrorism" is a political act, meant to sow fear.

"I once thought that way, but everything to me seems to be political," says Dorothy Johnson-Speight, the founder and executive director of Mothers in Charge. She lost a son to Philadelphia gun violence.

Our conversation turned me in an unexpected direction.

"I don't talk to a mother of a teenage son or daughter who isn't scared to death," Johnson-Speight says. Yes, you can call living in fear a result of the "terrorism" of gunslinging gangsters who rule and ruin some inner-city neighborhoods.

"And while we are concerned about the issue of police violence and of shooting innocent folks," every day someone is gunned down by someone who looks just like the victim, she says.

In Philadelphia, homicide is the leading cause of death of black males between ages 14 and 34. The killers are in the same demographic.

If "terrorism" is a political statement, I ask Johnson-Speight, what is theirs?

"I'm in pain and nobody's doing anything about the pain," she answers for them. "I am hurting, so what does it mean for me hurt someone else?"

In their minds, she concludes, chillingly, "nobody cares."

If "nobody cares" about their pain, can we blame them for their nihilism? The answer is yes or no, depending on your threshold for forgiveness, but it does help understand their actions.

The facts seem to say that a majority of Americans don't care, based on the small national outcry.

Some believe that America doesn't care because the victims are black. But America doesn't much care about the inner-city male victims who are white or Hispanic.

We "don't care" because they are invisible. They are on the lowest rung of the economic ladder, they live in ugly neighborhoods where we don't go and we don't want or have to think about them.

They are invisible - until they turn up as chalk outlines on the 11 p.m. news.

Changing that paradigm takes a lot more thought than defining the problem as something it is not.


Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky