Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Weekend Shootings

Last Friday evening I joined several hundred people outside Saint Sabina Church on the South Side of Chicago for a rally against violence. Father Michael Pfleger, who has spent years working to reduce the violence, was there. Reverend Jeremiah Wright led a prayer. Police Superintendent McCarthy stood by. State Representative Collins was there. So was an alderman from the area. The Guardian Angels, Operation CeaseFire, Purpose Over Pain, the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, CrossWalk, and a few other groups were represented. Neighborhood kids performed some poetry, and there was even a drill team tossing wooden rifles in the air. (It would have seemed more appropriate to just use batons.) Interspersed among the people from the neighborhood were a few people from other parts of the city, and even a few of us from the suburbs.

Everyone who was there knew about the problem of violence. Everyone was well intentioned and wanted to lend their support to the efforts to reduce the number of shootings. The event energized the community and gave some press attention to the problem. It was all good.

Monday morning the tally of weekend violence showed that thirty-five people were injured and seven killed by guns in Chicago over the weekend. The fact that President Obama was in town doesn't seem to have mattered. The fact that the police are now getting paid overtime to work weekends didn't seem to matter. The violence just went on like it has been for years. More Americans have been killed in Chicago this year than in the war in Afghanistan.

There are ways to reduce violence, but our society don't seem very committed to the effort. The violence we hear about in the news is closely associated with poverty and deprivation, problems which are getting less and less attention as the economy continues to limp along. Mitt Romney boldly stated that he wasn't concerned about poor people, so if he becomes our president we can expect the violence to get even worse. The Chicago Housing Authority has never replaced the affordable units it demolished over the past few years, so housing conditions remain grim for many. Jobs continue to be scarce, especially where they are needed most. And if the NRA wins a lawsuit, which is now in federal court or if the NRA gets the legislation passed that it has been pushing for years, it will soon be legal for people to carry concealed weapons all over the state.

If people who live in Chicago's ghettos feel like the rest of the city doesn't really care about them, it wouldn't be very surprising. The mere fact that Chicago still has depressed and depressing ghettos pretty much tells the whole story. Mayor Emanuel said recently that the violence is intolerable, but we seem to have a pretty well-developed tolerance for it, so long as it stays confined to certain neighborhoods and doesn't spill out into the Gold Coast like it did a little more than a week ago.

Twenty years ago, Studs Terkel included in his book Race an interview with a black woman who said, “There is such hopelessness in the black community today. The drug situation is paralyzing. Yet white America pays no attention until the problem of the black community spills over into the white. It's like seeing a fire on the next block spreading. You'd be stupid to go into your house and close the door. It won't stop the fire.” That was the same year as the riots in Los Angeles that followed the Rodney King beating and the acquittal of the police who were charged with attacking him. The Watts Riots, which also erupted out of a ghetto in California, were 27 years earlier. The riots following Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder were a few years after that.

There are other examples in American history where the public did not pay attention to a situation until it led to violence which threatened the broader society. I'd like to think that won't be the case this time and that people will show they care about other people's children getting shot as much as they would care about their own. I have my doubts.

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