“Jeff. I have some bad news for you. Ashley is dead.”
I had just picked up my Mom’s phone call and that sentence was the last thing I expected to hear on June 18, 2007. My cousin was dead — shot to death while walking home with her boyfriend on the streets of Pomona, California. She was only 19 years old. Her daughter was only a baby.
I was shocked. I had no idea what to say, but I managed to croak, “No! What happened?” My Mom told me what she knew at the time. We didn’t know the whole story yet, but Ashley was hanging out with some friends in Pomona — a high-crime area about 30 miles east of Los Angeles. Apparently, her boyfriend had some type of argument with the individual who committed the killing.
The details of her murder are sparse — in urban communities, people are discouraged from giving law enforcement information pertaining to the incident, even if they witnessed it. What we did know — but couldn’t prove — is that a black male gunned Ashley and her boyfriend down on their way home. After the first volley, the killer walked up to them as they lay on the pavement and fired the killing shots.
As you might guess, my family was devastated. She did not deserve to die — especially at so young an age. Ashley was at a point in her life when she was working to be the mother her daughter needed. She wanted to do better for herself and the life for which she was now responsible. When I arrived at her apartment, my aunts, uncles and cousins were already there. My aunt — Ashley’s mother — collapsed into my arms screaming. I will never forget how hard she cried — it was the excruciating sound of a mother who had her baby ripped from this world for no good reason.
I was one of the pallbearers at her funeral. I barely had time to say goodbye before they closed the lid on her casket. As I helped to carry her to her final resting place, I remember thinking “I shouldn’t be carrying my cousin to her grave.” It was so wrong. Through my tears, I felt unshakeable grief — and anger. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. Now, 11 years later, I’m still angry.
I’d played with her before she learned how to walk. My other cousins and I would tease her like a little sister when we got together. To me, she wasn’t just another statistic. She was my cousin. Unfortunately, I am not alone — many other black Americans have had the same experience, many times over.
Ashley is the reason why I write about black-on-black crime. She is the reason why I write about the problems facing inner-city blacks, and other minorities. Unfortunately, we do not typically hear about people like Ashley because news outlets don’t consider their deaths to be particularly newsworthy. My cousin was not killed by a police officer. As a matter of fact, most black homicide victims lose their lives to other blacks.
Some argue that most American homicide victims are killed by member of their own race. This is true. But blacks make up 13% of the U.S. population and represent over half of the country’s murder victims. This disproportionality is what makes black-on-black crime uniquely tragic.
This is why I am frustrated with destructive policies that keep people in poverty — which is linked to violence and crime. It’s why I’m disgusted with groups like Black Lives Matter — had they existed back then, there is no doubt that they would not have marched for my cousin or the other 26 murder victims in the city of Pomona because the police were not involved in their deaths. This is why I despise the media’s refusal to cover anti-violence initiatives in inner cities, but have no problem showing up when there is a riot in response to police brutality.
Black-on-black crime is a real issue — one that must be addressed by the black community. Instead of obsessing over racism, it would be more productive to focus on actual solutions that can decrease poverty and violence. If we continue along this path, the only result we will see is more tragedy without solutions.