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Opinion: Columnists

The tragedy of Audie Mickens

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Photo - Handgun muzzle, close-up
Handgun muzzle, close-up
Opinion,Gregory Kane,Columnists

Poor Audie Mickens. Had he been born 40 years earlier, he might still be alive.

His name isn't exactly a household word. For years, I simply knew him as "Audie," the guy who gave what I call "The Rant of the Ignoramus" in the 2008 documentary that aired on the Home Box Office network called "Hard Times at Douglass High."

Believe me, I've heard quite a few "Rants of the Ignoramus" over the years. But Audie Mickens, 16 years old when he appeared in the documentary shot at the Baltimore school during the 2004-2005 school year, completely blew away his ignoramus competitors.

Twenty-five minutes into the film, Mickens grinned into the camera as he and other Douglass students aimlessly wandered the halls: "This what we do. Just walking the halls all day, baby. (Bleep) class. That (bleep's) for clowns, man. Don't nobody go to class around here, man. Man, (bleep) academics. Academics? We gon' leave that to them nerd-(bleep) (bleep) (bleeps). We gon' keep (bleep) straight 'hood. All my (bleeps) out here, we gon' keep it gutter."

Mickens did, indeed, "keep it gutter." And on Sept. 20 of this year, he died in one.

The police and news accounts of his death read like this: Mickens was standing on a street with some other men on Baltimore's West Side, not too far from Douglass High. A man walked up and pulled out a gun. Mickens took off running, but even Usain Bolt can't outrun bullets -- and Mickens, we can safely assume, was no Usain Bolt.

The gunman fired at Mickens, striking him several times. He continued to run before he collapsed on a side street.

Before he was killed, Mickens had had what might be called "brushes with the law." Court records show arrests for illegal gun possession, attempted murder, drug possession and drug dealing. Mickens skated on most of those charges, but in the city nicknamed (appropriately, I might add) "Bodymore, Murderland," street justice has a habit of catching up with a guy when court justice doesn't.

So why might Audie Mickens, born April 27, 1988, according to court records, still be alive if he had instead been born April 27, 1948? Because when he was 16, it would have been 1964. At Douglass High in that particular year, there would have been teachers at the school who would have hauled Mickens into a room the very minute he went into his Rant of the Ignoramus. Some of them might have even put a foot up his derriere until he came to his senses. Those teachers wouldn't have let students aimlessly roam the halls either.

In 1964, with the ink barely dry on the Civil Rights Act that President Johnson signed into law, the teachers -- black and white -- expected certain things from black students.

Yes, racism and segregation still existed in many places, but black students -- the poor, the middle class and the few affluent ones -- were still expected to perform academically. Something has changed in America over the years. By the time Mickens was born in 1988, liberals in America did the worst possible thing to poor black students they could have done. They made them victims.

And once they were victims, they were no longer held to any kind of standards. So when Mickens went into his Rant of the Ignoramus? Why, that wasn't his fault. "Systemic white racism" was to blame. Or "structural inequality."

In "Hard Times at Douglass High," several of the school's teachers were shown in empty classrooms on Back to School Night. Few parents bothered to show up and get involved in their children's education. But that wasn't their fault. These are poor black folks, you see, victims of "systemic white racism" and "structural inequality."

I wonder what kind of equality Mickens is getting in his grave.

Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.

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