Last week, four college-bound Newark, N.J., friends were gunned down execution-style on a high school playground. They were made to kneel against a wall and shot point-blank in the backs of their heads. Three of them died at the scene. Their names were Terrance Aeriel, 18, Iofemi Hightower, 20, and Dashon Harvey, 20. Natasha Aeriel, 19, the only survivor of the execution and sister of Terrance, is expected to make a full recovery. Four life-long friends hanging out before heading off to college (Delaware State University) were snuffed out in a matter of minutes. How is it that since the initial reporting of this tragedy, there has been little to no coverage of this story in mainstream media?
These murders happened on a school playground in a middle-class neighborhood, located less than one mile from Seton Hall University. According to an Aug. 5 article published on WNBC.com, two of the three cameras installed on the school's playground were not functioning, apparently those aimed directly at the scene of the crime. A school's failure to properly outfit and maintain surveillance cameras, compromising the safety of its students on a daily basis, has contributed to the unsolved executions of these promising young students. How ironic is that?
School administrators failed to maintain these surveillance cameras, even after Newark teenagers led a rally against gun violence in May of 2006, proclaiming "enough is enough." Many adults also lent their support, including Newark's mayor-elect at the time, Cory Booker. Where is this story?
I am disgusted at the lack of coverage of these senseless murders in the mainstream media and the lack of outrage by our society. If these four kids were white, the coverage of this story would be non-stop. We would know every bit of minutia about these kids, the names of the administrators, and there would be story after story about the multiple failures that collided for this incident to occur. Instead, we get to hear how Mayor Cory Booker, who just took office, is failing at his job. It is the same old song. Instead of focusing on the real problems -- our depraved and declining society, gun violence, lack of gun control and outdated everything at many inner-city public schools -- the media focuses on the failure of the young, black mayor who is in his first term. Sounds a little Katrina-esque.
This type of disrespect by the media is not new. When pretty, white girls disappear or are murdered, we hear about it exhaustively. This is why the names of victims like Natalee Holloway, Laci Peterson, Lori Hacking and Elizabeth Smart roll off our tongues, as they should because their lives do matter. What about Stepha Henry, a recent college graduate and aspiring lawyer, who disappeared from Club Peppers in Ft. Lauderdale over Memorial Day weekend of this year? Do you remember Tamika Huston, 24, who was murdered in Spartanburg, S.C.? What about Latoyia Figueroa, 24, a five-months-pregnant woman who was murdered in Chester, Pa.? You don't know their names because their lives and deaths do not matter, simply because they are black, like these four victims in Newark.
The same people who were calling Michael Vick a "murderer" last week are the same people who have been silent about these murders. What about the recent execution of Chauncey Bailey, the long-time editor of the Oakland Post? According to an article published Aug. 8 on MSNBC.com, Bailey was investigating a local bakery with criminal ties when he was gunned down while walking to his office. The bakery's handyman Devaughndre Broussard, 19, confessed to shooting Bailey in broad daylight because of Bailey's ongoing investigation. An upstanding member of the media community is executed in the United States, and there is barely any coverage of it? Can you imagine the level of coverage that would occur if the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle or The New York Times were murdered execution-style in front of their offices while working on a dangerous story?
The lack of respect and coverage of these stories speaks to the underlying issue, which is that our society does not value black lives. When our children and prominent members of community are murdered, it is the status quo and the world keeps on moving. Why aren't they being covered seriously and consistently? Where is the outrage from the world community?
Perhaps these folks are too damned black. Black people. Black neighborhood. Black university. Black newspaper. Black cities. I guess only black people should give a damn. Because people have obviously forgotten, we are a part of this society; 400 years of free labor guarantees that. So, I hope and pray that these three kids in Newark and Mr. Bailey did not die in vain. They are black and their lives do matter, and their stories deserve the same level of coverage as anyone else.
Nsenga K. Burton is a Charlotte-based writer, professor and filmmaker.