Boddy (1921)

Boddy (1921)

What more pathetic, baffling, and heartrending case can one conceive? Here is a boy of nineteen—too young even to have begun to live. He is comely, straight, quick of brain, and with lightning speed of hands. He can read and write. He has spent two years in the high school. And yet he stands today a murderer, frank and red-handed.

He has been in jail; he has been in the penitentiary; he has been in the army. He has stolen; he has killed. Now society is going to kill him. Why? Whose fault is it? Who made this boy what he is?

Society assumes that he is to blame, but he is not wholly to blame and it is barely possible that he is not a bit to blame. How fair a chance to live has he had? First, it is a question if his own family and companions and race have shown any real and continued interest in him. They have been content to call his energy and quickness and revolt against bonds, “badness.” They have withdrawn from him and let him go his way. He has figured for years as one of the “bad boys” of Harlem, for whose reform his own people have had no adequate program and for whose type they have had no sympathetic understanding.

His city and his country have laughed at him, insulted him, hated him, given him few places for play or recreation, and filled his ears with too true stories of outrage and lynching. We can kill this boy, and perhaps in the horrible muddle of our penal code there is nothing else to do.

But one or two things must ring in our ears forever. He said: “They kick and knock you about for two or three hours in the station house.” They do and we know it; it is one of the greatest outrages of our present police system. It has been said that Boddy himself has been beaten by the police a dozen times when they could prove nothing against him. It is said the dead detectives have beaten and killed unconvicted Negroes, and slapped and insulted black women.

His mother said, “They taught him to shoot in the army.” They did. Millions of boys have lately been taught to shoot in the armies of the world, and civilization is to blame for the murders which they did in the army and for those which they are doing outside the army.

And finally, when this boy is dead, remember that the same forces which made him what he was are alive and powerful and working to make others like him.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1921. “Boddy.” The Crisis. 23(5):199.