Updated: July 3, 2012 10:45AM
Terror haunts the streets of our cities. Since 2008, more than 530 young people have been killed in Chicago. Almost four-fifths of these killings were in 22 African-American and Latino community areas on the city’s South and Southwest sides.
Each year, across the country, about 7,000 African Americans are murdered, more than nine times out of 10 by other African Americans. Far more African Americans are killed on our streets than on foreign battlefields. If a foreign foe took these lives, we would mobilize armies and armadas to stop them. But here, becaues much of this violence is contained in racially concentrated neighborhoods, there is too much resignation and too little outrage.
We know the roots of this violence. The poor are crowded into desperate neighborhoods. Joblessness produces despair, depression and hopelessness. Drugs and guns spread in the underground economy. Gangs start warring on mean streets. The young go to the poorest schools. They are more likely to be suspended, less likely to graduate. They face the worst job market since the Great Depression.
We know where the guns come from. There are no gun manufacturers or gun shops in Chicago. If we knew the location of a terrorist base providing weapons to kill U.S. soldiers, we would take it out with a drone attack. No one wants drones used here at home, but that’s no reason to ignore the problem.
Chicago knows how to protect people when it has adequate resources. When NATO came to town, the police secured the streets and protected the guests. Historically, when the violence heads uptown, the police react faster and investigate more thoroughly. More police have been dispatched to neighborhoods where the murders have spiked, but citizens there still aren’t protected as well as our guests or uptown businesses are.
In his poem, “The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats writes of a time when “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
In the face of this violence, our society seems to lack conviction. Social permissiveness allows the vulnerable to remain unprotected by law. Mass unemployment threatens to become a normal condition. Starving schools of resources is a budgetary item.
And the worst are full of passionate intensity. The National Rifle Association and its lobbies push to weaken gun laws, to free gun stores from responsibility, to block the ability of our municipalities to crack down on the gun flow.
Making our neighborhoods safe won’t be easy. We must target the areas that suffer the most pain, and put young people to work. We need to provide the young with the best, not the worst, educational opportunities. We need the police to make protecting the citizens of those streets a greater priority. We need to crack down on the flow of drugs and guns.
This won’t start from the mayor’s office or the police department. Change will come only when victims demand it. People whose backs are against the wall can imitate the violence of the broader society or they can adjust to it or they can resist. They must resist. In Chicago, many courageous community groups and churches have taken up this cause. We must march on the gun sellers and challenge the gangs. We must march to demand jobs.
One of Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms is the Freedom from Fear. Violence on our streets tramples a basic human right. Responding requires all the energy and invention that we used in the civil rights movement — from litigation to demonstration, from nonviolent protest to the power of the vote.
We must have for our youth more graduations and fewer funerals. We must choose life over death. We choose nonviolence not because we are scared, but because we are wise. And it is transformative.
We must make the unspeakable unacceptable again.