Saturday, June 24, 2017

How Congress Failed Kingston Frazier

6-year-old kindergartner Kingston Frazier 
As Republican lawmakers work feverishly on Capitol Hill to strip access to healthcare for millions of Americans and cut taxes for the wealthiest individuals and corporations (God knows they're struggling...), it's doubtful the name Kingston Frazier means much of anything to them.

Kingston was a 6-year-old boy from Jackson, Mississippi who was all set to graduate from kindergarten on Thursday May 18th.

But three teenagers decided they needed to steal his mother's car from a Kroger's grocery store on Interstate 55 around 1am that morning, and when they broke into it, according to members of his family, Kingston was asleep in the back seat.

These heartless teens later abandoned the car 12 miles away in rural Madison County, but not before shooting young Kingtson in the back of the head and leaving him to die alone on a lonely dirt stretch called Glukstadt Road behind a warehouse.

It's Saturday and I slept in late this morning, but I'm tired - for a number of reasons.

I'm tired of some African-Americans preying on one another in a demented cycle of criminal violence that plays out like some kind of nightmarish extermination campaign of self-inflicted racial genocide.

Like many Americans I'm tired of the almost unrestricted flow of firearms in this country.

I'm tired of right-wing nutjobs like Alex Jones propagating the loony conspiracy theory that the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in 2014, in which 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother before driving to the school and shooting 20 six and seven-year-old children and six adults, was a hoax intended to strip gun owners of their right to bear arms.  

And I'm tired of Republican politicians opposing any reasonable measure to keep deadly firearms out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them - let's not forget that on the day that Rep. Steve Scalise was shot in the hip in Virginia recently, Republicans were scheduled to debate a bill that would make it easier to transport silencers across state lines and ease restriction on ammunition that pierces the body armor worn by many police officers.

The three teens charged in Kingson Frazier's death
from left, Wakefield, Washington and McBride 
How did Dwan Wakefield 17, DeAllen Washington 17 and Byron McBride 19, the three teens accused of stealing Kington Frazier's mother's car, get a hold of a gun in the first place?

How did Dylan Roof get the handgun he used to mercilessly gun down nine innocent people at a Bible study at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina?

In my view Congress owes us answers to those questions.

The recent string of high-profile shootings in this nation is a constant reminder of the failure of House Republicans responsible for drafting laws that protect Americans to take action to pass and enforce sensible federal restrictions on the purchase and ownership of firearms.

Do I believe Americans have a constitutional right to own firearms? Absolutely.

But at the same time those three teens pictured above had no business with a loaded handgun at 1am in the morning when they decided to steal Kingston Frazier's mom's Toyota Camry.

Are those three knuckleheads old enough to face responsibility for their actions?

Of course they are, and should considering the heinous nature of their crime.

And as young black men in Mississippi you can rest assured the full weight of the law is going to come down on them hard.

Particularly in a deep-south state like Mississippi where blacks and Hispanics are consistently overrepresented in prison populations, while whites are consistently underrepresented.

Take a look at the chart to the left published by the Prison Policy Initiative compiled from data from the 2010 U.S. Census.

African-Americans made up about 37% of the population of Mississippi in 2010.

But they comprised about 57% of the state's prison population.

Whereas whites made up about 58% of Mississippi's population in 2010, but made up only about 30% of the prison populace.

As Colleen Curry reported in an article for Vice News in 2015, if Mississippi had been a country in 2013, it would have had the second highest incarceration rate in the world.

But, as Curry's article notes, in all fairness to Mississippi state legislators, lawmakers enacted a series of prison reforms in 2014 that reduced the state's prison population by a remarkable 14% in just a year.

Given the years of heavy-handed and racially-biased conservative sentencing polices that caused the state's prison population to triple between 1978 and 2013, those law makers had a lot of ground to make up to balance the proverbial scales of justice - but they do deserve credit for taking concrete steps towards sensible prison and sentencing reforms.

But to get back to the issue at hand, Congress is empowered by the Constitution to write federal laws.

So I also hold them collectively responsible for Kingston Frazier's death for having consistently and actively blocked the kinds of gun control legislation that might have prevented those teens from getting their hands on a firearm in the first place.

But it's also important to look at the socio-economic angles to the death of Kingston Frazier.

Perhaps those three teens being out at 1am on a Thursday night trying to steal a car has something to do with the fact that Mississippi consistently ranks near the bottom in categories like health, education and personal income; at least half the population lives below the poverty line.

Cotton is one of Mississippi's major crops and
agriculture is one of the state's biggest employers
Back in February, the state's Chief Economist Dr. Darrin Webb published a detailed report showing the state of Mississippi ranked 49th out of 50 states with an anemic workforce participation rate of 53% in 2016.

As the report states, a mere 56% of people in Mississippi were actively looking for work or working in 2016.

Again, it was about 1am on a Thursday when the three teens stole the car in which Kingston Frazier was killed.

So I'm guessing none of them were employed; I don't know that for sure.

According to an article in the Clarion-Ledger by Therese Apel and Sarah Fowler, 19-year-old Byron McBride, tentatively identified as the shooter, claimed to be a manager at Wal-Mart but a company a spokesperson told the paper they had no record of his being employed at any of their stores.

The article also quotes 17-year-old suspect Dwan Wakefield's mother as saying that her son, a senior in high school, quit playing football to work a summer job selling cards with his father.

But I'd say it's probably fair to "guestimate" that all three teens were part of the approximately 44% of people in the state of Mississippi not currently working or actively looking for work.

While manufacturing, gambling and tourism all employ significant numbers of people in Mississippi, agriculture or agriculture-related jobs employ almost 30% of the state's population of approximately
3 million people - large industrial farms dominate the industry.

Nothing can excuse what those three teens did, but they are the living byproducts of one of the worst educational systems in the country in a state with lackluster job growth that's still trying to recover from the Great Recession; while there has been modest economic growth it lags far behind the national average.

Kingston Frazier
With deep state cuts to social safety net programs and education since 2007, coupled with the steep drops in federal spending on public school education since the 1950's, the pathway to college, trade school or meaningful full-time employment was probably a steep one for those three teens.

After the midterm elections in 2010 when Republicans re-took the House of Representatives in a landslide, they pretty much spent the rest of President Obama's terms in office blocking his proposals for large infrastructure spending bills and jobs legislation to expand employment.

That adds up to an awful lot of poorly-educated, under-employed teenagers in Mississippi, and it's a heart-breaking tragedy that three of them happened upon poor Kingston Frazier the night before he was to join his classmates from North Jackson Elementary School for kindergarten graduation.


Anyway I'd like to wrap this rather somber Saturday entry up by noting that like most southern states, Mississippi has some of the most lax gun control laws in the nation.

According to Gun.Laws.com, there is no law requiring a permit to buy a handgun or a long gun in the state of Mississippi, and people aren't even required to register their firearms either.

Republican politicians, who've basically prostituted themselves out to the NRA and the gun lobby, are quick to extol the righteous virtues of the 2nd Amendment, and what they consider an almost sacred right to bear ams has morphed into millions of unregistered and illegal firearms in the hands of people all over the country.

While some see that as the extension of an abstract right enshrined in the Constitution, as the tragic killing of 6-year-old Kingston Frazier illustrates, the actual reality is far more violent, bloody and horrifying.

Given that the state of Mississippi's gun laws are totally inadequate, Congress failed Kingston Frazier, one of its youngest citizens.

When Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is done stripping millions of Americans of their access to healthcare and gutting Medicaid to provide billions of dollars in tax cuts for America's wealthiest families, maybe he can find the time to take a trip down to Jackson, Mississippi to explain the virtues of the 2nd Amendment to Kingston Frazier's family and the classmates who didn't see him at their kindergarten graduation.

But I doubt it, it's unlikely Speaker Ryan even knows his name.

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