Opinion: NBA player’s arrest represents sad demographic pattern

By Leonard Pitts Jr.
Miami Herald

The last time most of us heard the name Javaris Crittenton, it was as the other guy in a news story starring Gilbert Arenas. The story grew from a December 2009 incident in the locker room of the NBA’s Washington Wizards in which a supposed “joke” between the two escalated until they produced guns from their lockers. Arenas got most of the attention – and blame – which is fitting. He was the team’s star, considered one of the better players in the game.

Crittenton, by contrast, was a journeyman who had bounced from team to team. After the incident, he was bounced out of the NBA proper, ending up in its Development League. Still, he might have made it back to the big time, might have played overseas, might have wound up coaching at some level. But if Atlanta police are correct, all those might haves just went away.

Crittenton, 23, was arrested at John Wayne International Airport in Orange County, Calif., on Monday. He is suspected of killing Jullian Jones, a mother of four, who was shot to death in a drive-by earlier this month as she stood outside her home with two other people. Authorities say she was not the intended target and that Crittenton was after someone he believed had stolen jewelry from him.

His fall offers a tragic coda to the events of 20 months ago. Tragic, but not surprising. The FBI’s reports that 9,775 arrests were made in 2009 for murder and non-negligent homicide.

There is a reason people under 30 like Crittenton, accounted for about two-thirds of them: Young people tend to have poor impulse control.

There is a reason males, like Crittenton, accounted for about 90 percent of them: Males tend to be more aggressive.

And there are multiple reasons young black men, like Crittenton, account for about half the arrests: one being that black men tend to be more hyper-vigilant about, and to guard more jealously against, perceived threats to their manhood.

You’d think having a chance at some sort of future would insulate you from those forces. You’d be mistaken. Crittenton, young, male and black, struck a dangerous trifecta. His lawyers, by the way, say that when he was arrested, their client had checked in for an Atlanta-bound flight, intending to turn himself in. They say he is innocent and looks forward to clearing his name at trial. If he does, great. If he does not, we will henceforth regard with new eyes that locker room standoff a couple years ago.

We already know it suggests immaturity, already know it suggests knuckleheadedness. But it also suggests something we see all too often in violence-scarred urban hellscapes: young black men trying to validate their manhood on the cheap, trying to find it in the barrel of a gun. A man or boy has a psychological – perhaps even biological – need to prove his capability, durability, fearlessness, toughness.

Recognizing this, it would be a worthwhile mission for families, schools, worship houses and other community institutions working toward violence reduction to formulate means that allow boys to fulfill that imperative constructively. At the very least, teach them that owning a gun is not an indication of manhood. It’s a tragedy that Crittenton didn’t know that. It’s a bigger tragedy that he’s not the only one.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.