The recent death of Freddie Gray while in police custody in Baltimore that has triggered nights of violence is further confirmation of a report in The New York Times about “missing Black men.” One of the reasons they are increasingly missing is that they are victims of wanton, excessive force by law enforcement officers across the nation.
But back to the report. Of immediate concern for us in metropolitan New York, the report indicates, is that 120,000 Black men between the ages of 25 and 54 are missing from everyday life.
So where are they?
If they have not been violently “disappeared,” like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Eric Harris and Freddie Gray, by egregious white police officers or “almost-cops,” they are probably languishing in the halfway houses, correctional centers, jails and prisons of America.
They may also be among the invisible Black men—except to police officers who in their stated fear sometimes see 10 Black men when only one unarmed man is before them—pushed to the margins of society, unemployed, uncounted and undesirable.
There is clearly a relation among the above categories in accounting for the missing or invisibility of Black men. Without employment, they too often drift away from the mainstream and into a nether world of wrongdoing. Invariably, they accumulate a rap sheet of misdemeanors and felonies, are no longer tabulated by the census, are no longer desirable mates to build a family.
This misery index is exacerbated by homicide, fratricide and suicide. In their attempts to “get ovah,” they commit petty crimes that sometimes end in fatal shootouts, and some become malevolent predators on their own brothers and sisters. And a disturbingly growing number take their own lives.
We cannot ignore the ramifications of poverty, poor health care and the drug and alcohol addictions that have been plagues of perennial destruction in the Black community.
Missing Black men has far-reaching implications, as the report emphasizes. “Their absence disrupts family formation, leading both to lower marriage rates and higher rates of childbirth outside of marriage.” This means that many Black women are hard-pressed to find a desirable mate in their own race, thereby leaving them to marry outside the race or struggle to make it on their own.
Nothing in the report is dramatically new, but it resonates with a fresh urgency against the backdrop of young Black men being unnecessarily taken from us by law enforcement officers who are supposedly hired to protect us.
We have inherited enough societal problems to cause Black men to go missing; we don’t need any help from the police.
To escape the police menace, maybe it’s best that Black men become invisible, and much like Ralph Ellison’s protagonist in his novel “Invisible Man,” not a spook … but “simply because people refuse to see me.”