Young men need to learn lesson fast

By Leonard Pitts: Syndicated columnist

Good morning, gentlemen. I don’t know your names yet, but I want to talk to you about the man you killed.

I read about it in The Miami Herald. How Lemroy Lawrence walked out of his house in Miami Gardens about 9 p.m. Tuesday to get some papers from his truck. How you approached him out of the darkness. How there was a struggle. How he was shot in the back.

Police put out a description of the suspects they’re looking for, a description of you: young, black, and male. Maybe you’ll be in custody by the time these words see print. Maybe it’ll take longer. But you’ll be caught. For some reason, I have no doubt.

Afterward, you’ll show up in court and they’ll have your picture on the news and you’ll be wearing one of those jail jumpsuits and giving that scowl of hard-as-calculus and dead inside that young men like you like to show the world as a way of saying nothing matters to you and you can’t be touched. Inside, you’ll be puking your guts out.

They’re going to give you life. Or maybe death. Either way, you’ll have a long time to contemplate what you’ve done. You’ll turn 30 in jail, 40 in jail, maybe grow old in jail, and the person you are now will be a distant memory, a stupid young punk you’ll wish you could reach back in time to slap, scream at, shake by the shoulders and beg to turn his life around, not do this terrible thing. Maybe you’ll find Jesus. Maybe you’ll find remorse. Maybe you’ll read books, become educated, change your life.

And all the while, Lemroy Lawrence will still be dead.

Moreover, the ironies of that death will still be sharp as razor blades. Lawrence was a husband, father, high school shop teacher, yes. He was also a mentor in the 5000 Role Models of Excellence program, a program that exists to save young black men at risk. Young black men like you.

I spoke at one of their assemblies years ago. They made me an honorary member. Somewhere in my closet, I still have the tie they gave me, the tie that is the uniform of the program: against a field of red, it shows hands reaching out.
It was all the brainchild of state Sen. Frederica Wilson. According to Role Models literature, 95 percent of the boys who graduate the program get in no further trouble with school officials or police. Point being, you destroyed a man who had dedicated his life to saving yours.
It’s painful, but hardly coincidental to note that in May, Wilson herself was mugged — outside the Role Models office — by a young black man.
In a very real sense, of course, it’s a waste of time talking to you. You stood in the endless moment before the awful act, the moment when all things were still possible, and you made your decision. You pulled the trigger. You crossed a sacred line, and there’s no going back.

But I find myself thinking about the young black men for whom there is still time, the ones who stand at that line but haven’t crossed it yet, the ones who still live in the moment before and thus, still have time to reclaim their futures, redeem their lives. With any luck, they will learn from this. With any luck, they will understand that they are both the hope and the despair of the African-American nation, and that we’ve known too little of the one and far too much of other. We are a people who are killing themselves, one heartbreak at a time. So maybe those young men will look at what you did and realize they need to be better than this. We all need to be better than this.

Better than drugs. Better than guns. Better than ignorance. Better than fear. Better than handcuffs. Better than poverty. And yes, Lord, better than death.

It’s too late for you. But I think of all those other young brothers out there walking the edge of that sacred line, and I hope they step back before it’s too late for them.

Before it’s too late for us all.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at:ts@herald.com