The Limits Of Compassion

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We talked some last month about how violence happens in black communities, and the rather search for meaning. I don't think there's much meaning in this:

The Agape Community Center in Roseland has long been a sanctuary, a refuge for students who want to finish their homework, take Bible study courses or simply escape the chaotic streets in their Far South Side community.

But this place of refuge became the scene of a deadly melee Thursday when dozens of teenage boys converged in a vacant lot next to the community center, beating one another with fists, feet and 2-by-4s.

When it was all over, 16-year-old Derrion Albert lay on the gravel, his body dented and damaged from the pummeling. A youth worker at the center dragged Derrion's slight frame into the center, but it was too late. He died a short time later.

Witnesses and police said Friday that the Fenger High School junior was not a target but simply passed by the community center and was swept into the violent altercation. Walking from school, he fell victim to the violence plaguing some of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods.

The honor roll student known for his love of computers became the third Chicago teenager killed this month. At least seven more have been shot.

I am aware of all the socio-economic forces at work they make black communities more subject to violence. I'm in all for trying to ameliorate those forces. In the meantime, I'm all for doing whatever it takes to protect the rest of us--particularly young black kids--from hooliganism.

I can't ever say this enough--there's nothing inconsistent about trying to understand the broad societal forces, and still holding people responsible for individual action. Being black and poor sucks. But most poor black kids aren't out smacking innocent bystanders with 2x4s.

If all is as it appears for these kids who were arrested, then heaven help them, because we can not. Compassion--like all resources--has limits.  It's worth spending some time on what makes young boys do these sorts of things. It's worth at least as much time to try and protect young boys who are just trying to live right. I know from personal experience that there are more of the latter than the former. Don't ever forget that.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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