It’s not just guns, Mr. President


Welcome home Mr. President.

Your trip home to talk about guns and jobs and the economy is uplifting. It also is time to talk about this.

Guns matter. Guns took many of the more than 500 lives lost here last year. We had over 2,200 shootings last year, up near 20 percent in one year.

So, nobody will tell you that guns are not the fuel that feeds violence.

But lately we’ve been looking deeper and longer into what feeds these flames.

And more than ever we hear people saying that you can’t police the problem.

When Tribune columnist Mary  Schmich went to Hediya Pendleton’s funeral, here is what she wrote:

Standing in the cold, gray afternoon outside the funeral home, you could have asked almost anyone who walked in or out, and they would have given you theories, strands of explanations, strands of solutions. You would have gotten the same answers and questions at her funeral Saturday.

“The youth of America don’t have anything to live for,” Williams said. “They can’t see a future for themselves, so they don’t mind taking away the future of others.”

By “the youth of America” I assume she meant the America of impoverished communities where families are broken and there are no jobs.

“In the black community,” said Carlos Estes, an adviser to an anti-violence group, “the men who are supposed to be holding the community together are in prison. If they’re not in prison, they’re on drugs.”

He shook his head. “You can’t police your way out of this.”

Last summer when violence was lurching from one street to another in black and Latino communities, Steve Bogira wrote this in the Reader:

Yes, more resources are needed in poor neighborhoods. But that alone won’t change things much. Violent crime in Englewood and West Garfield Park will continue to run rampant as long as poverty’s clustered there. Concentrated poverty produces a lot more violence than poverty that’s intermittent in a region. Concentrated poverty is also self-sustaining.

It’s that clustering of poverty—a product of the city’s racial and economic segregation—that needs to be addressed if we genuinely want fewer murders here.

And here’s a long list of events and voices as well from community folks, who see the toll of the violence linked to a heap of losses concentrated in poor black and Latino communities. My colleague Curtis Black writes:

At 4 p.m. on Thursday, February 12, youth leaders from five high schools — including King College Prep, where Hadiya Pendleton was a student, and where one of the suspects in her murder graduated – will hold a press conference at 4 p.m. at Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st Street.  They’re part of Leaders Investing For Equality (LIFE), which for several years has pushed for restoration of funding cut from youth employment programs.

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, the Bronzeville Alliance and Centers for New Horizons will hold a press conference at the Ellis Childcare Center, 4301 S. Cottage, to launch a community initiative to coordinate social services for community youth and families and to advocate for a reversal of cutbacks they say have destabilized the community.

In media coverage of youth violence, “there doesn’t seem to be much discussion of the root causes of these problems and the responsiblity of government and the private sector for years of disinvestment in minority communities,” said John Owens of CNH.

“We’ve had many years of jobs being lost and cutbacks in a whole range of social services – and the whole idea of closing schools is just another form of cutbacks,” he said.

“There’s been no discussion of youth employment, no discussion of the destabilization of families when jobs are lost and parents are working odd hours, no discussion of afterschool programs that are relevant,” Owens said.  “The bottom line is that we need to understand what it means to build community and we need to start building it – with the kind of resources that are needed for a community in crisis.”

Owen said CNH and other Bronzeville agencies are trying to provide developmental social services, “but everybody is barely keeping their doors open. There are not enough of us and we are not funded anywhere near what would be adequate to reach the number of youth and families out there who are in need.”

The new coalition, dubbed SAVE (Stop Armed Violence Everywhere), is calling on the city and state to work with residents to restore employment, educational, mental health and recreational resources in Bronzeville.  They are demanding meetings with Governor Quinn and Mayor Emanuel.

The coalition includes local schools, social service agencies, community groups, and business and veterans groups, Owens said.

The Bronzeville Alliance issued a call to the media “to avoid body-count journalism and drive-by reporting that criminalizes our community and tends to look at this very complex problem in narrow, counter-productive terms.”

It calls for an approach that is “pro-active, holistic, and sustainable.”

Youth leaders from LIFE will highlight public school closings, reduced funding for summer youth employment and limited recreational opportunities as”catalysts of community destabilization,” according to a statement from Shannon Bennett of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, which backs LIFE.

“Policy decisions made without consultation with the people directly impacted have led to destabilization of communities and increased violence in neighborhoods, particularly communities of color,” according to the statement.

“Summer youth employment was decimated over the last 20 years, and only one-third of the youth who apply each year for summer jobs find work. There is very little teen-specific programming in communities around Chicago serving out-of-school and severely at-risk youth.

“School actions implemented by the Chicago Board of Education have led to the creation of new youth gangs and the 300 percent increase in homicides in north Kenwood-Oakland.”

In a column last week in La Raza, editor Fabiola Pomerada told about talking to psychologist Elena Quintana of the Adler School, a veteran in dealing with the forces that bubble up into violence.

Elena Quintana, directora del Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice, de la Adler School of Professional Psychology, explicaba que existen distintas situaciones que puede vivir una persona en su niñez como abuso psicológico, físico, sexual o negligencia.O vivir en un hogar donde está presente el alcoholismo, el abuso de drogas, la depresión u otro mal mental, y/o la violencia doméstica. haber perdido a unos de sus padres, ya sea por abandono, muerte, deportación o encarcelamiento.

Fabiola had this interview at a workshop we held. We brought together journalists and more than 30 organizations that deal in someway with violence. None of those groups would deny, I am sure, that guns explode the situation. None would deny that gangs are walking human land mines. But almost all would agree that violence is the tip of the volcano, and when there is not enough help to put out the fires below, we see the victims of the flames lying on the street.

Over a year ago more than 100 organizations here that deal with violence helped the folks at Lurie Children’s Hospital form an organization that would coordinate the work to halt the trauma that afflicts parts of Chicago. If you go to their website, you’ll see their thinking: that violence is a public health issue that can be curtailed. If you go to their meetings, you’l also hear heartbreaking talk about agencies that do critical work but which face severe cutbacks or are closing. Here’s the link: http://www.scy-chicago.org/

That’s what is so worrisome. That more help needed is so badly and the need is not heard.

Welcome home

photo by Carlos Javier Ortiz

photo by Carlos Javier Ortiz


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