Recently, I took time to watch a “Frontline” documentary on gang violence in Chicago, a place I spent time growing up. Although it has been decades since I was an elementary school student on Chicago’s South Side, my mind conjures up candy-coated recollections that are probably unlike the realities of the times. Those images are perhaps why the documentary was so difficult to watch.
Sadly, for many African and Latino-American residents, Chicago is a place at war with itself. With a 2012 murder rate of 506, the Windy City has become more of a war zone than one of America’s finest tourist locations. The gravity of the situation forced President Obama to once state, “Our playgrounds have become battlegrounds, our streets cemeteries.”
While there are multiple causes for the violence, and no shortage of rationales for the atrocities, the answer to ending the carnage remains as elusive as ever.
Father Michael Pfleger, of St. Sabina Church, known for his gang mediation work, laments that “people are becoming immune to the killings“. Others, including Reverend Jesse Jackson, struggle to find solutions that might curb the violence. Jackson points to the access to guns as the problem and calls for stricter legislation. Considering the murder rate, and the fact that there are no gun shops in Chicago, he has a point.
The Washington Post documents that Chicago Public School children are causalities of violence that has become all too familiar in a city accustomed to the sound of gun fire. Of those shot in 2012, 319 were school age children; 24 were killed.
Neatly tucked away amid the statistics and arguments over expanded police and National Guard presence, is a whisper of an inquiry; “how did we let it get this bad”?
Voicing his own frustrations, Chicago Police Chief Gary McCarthy stated, “The problem is much bigger than just law enforcement. We accept our responsibility, but curing it is going to take a heck of a lot more than just police work.” The Chief is right!
As a community, it is long past time that we revisit our attitudes towards crime, and criminals. While we can certainly debate society’s propensity towards guns and gore, the Chicago carnage demands a sane response from communities of color. While stopping gang violence might be Rahm Emanuel’s problem as Mayor of Chicago, raising children who show respect, value life, and manage hostilities without killing each other, remains our responsibility.
Let’s be frank; curbing violence requires the engagement of citizens willing to not only report crimes, but to be accountable for policing their children, family, and friends who engage in lawlessness. It requires establishing norms that scream against the proclivity towards believing that going to prison is a badge of honor, or an inevitable Rite of Passage for poor and minority people.
If we are serious about regaining a sense of normality in our communities, and I am not convinced that we are, then, the framework for change begins with us, not the police!