The War Everyone is Ignoring in Chicago
Chicago, Illinois' homicide rate is worst than Kabul's.
On a hurried and hectic day a couple of weeks ago when stories about SCOTUS decisions and contempt votes were all the talk, there was a story that went widely unnoticed. It was the story of a seven-year-old girl named Heaven Sutton who was killed in the streets of Chicago as an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire of a gang war. She was selling candy and drinks on the street when gunfire broke out. As she tried to flee to her home, she was struck in the back by a stray bullet.
Her death marked the 253rd murder in the city in a war being waged, often capturing the lives of the innocent. And yet, there was little mention of it.
As I ride the metro to work daily, I like to read the paper so that I can get caught up on the top stories. In the international section, there is most certainly going to be a new story about what is happening in Syria. The violence in that far off country holds families hostage in their own homes as they are fearful of what will happen when they walk the streets. There is a war going on outside their doors – a war over principles and territory. And the sad reality is it’s not all that different from what happens in Chicago.
Since 2011, murder in Chicago is up 39%. And a great deal of it is being blamed on gangs, who, much like those in Syria are fighting for control. On a weekend back in June when nearly 80 people were killed in Homs, Syria, Chicago saw 53 people killed or injured through vicious acts of violence. While the death toll in Chicago is but an infinitesimal fraction of that in Syria, the number of lives claimed in the city is more than the death toll of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Yet we hear little of the lives lost and collateral damage of gang warfare.
[ALSO READ: Chicago Homicides More Than Kabul]
What is sad is that even as Chicago has a high murder rate, the death tolls in other cities are equally as troubling. Philadelphia kicked off this year with a surge of violence that surpassed all other cities giving it the title of worst murder rate in the earlier part of 2012. The violence has since tapered, but the city is still surpassing the number of murders than this point in both of the last two years. New Orleans had the highest murder rate in 2011, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, averaging about 50 murders for every 100,000 residents. But I’m sure most of you don’t know this because no one is talking about it.
While our urban communities are being ravaged by gun violence, our US Congress held US Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt because one life was lost and they “wanted to find justice.” They wanted to identify the trail of guns that walked across the border into Mexico and killed Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in addition to Mexican civilians. But where is the justice for the thousands of lives lost each year in inner cities across this country? Why is no one pursuing the trail that leads to the thousands of guns entering black communities every day?
Late last year when five NYPD officers were accused of trafficking guns, why wasn’t there a Congressional hearing on how that could happen? There seems to be a ranking order on the value of life in this country and as we see from the media and from Congress, low-income, inner-city blacks are at the bottom of the list.
As sad as that is, I am more saddened by the fact that more blacks aren’t calling for justice. There have been marches in Chicago about the killings, but we have not given this issue enough attention. What saddens me is that it seems like we have lost our way and we have lost our will to do better and be better. It appears that the only thing that motivates us is racism. If a white man or a white gang was to come in to town and shoot one black innocent bystander, the world would know about it because the black community would raise hell. If the KKK came into town and even so much as threatened to shoot someone, we’d be ready to march and protest and call anyone and everyone who could do something to make a difference. But let a black man shoot a 7-year-old girl while trying to kill another black man and the rest of the country knows nothing about it, while most of the black population knows only slightly more.
I was talking to a friend who is from Chicago but living in the DC area and he was unaware how bad it was despite still having family there. The amount of ignorance about this issue is staggering, and the lack of response is unacceptable.
I’ve known people who have had cancer. When people have found out in the early stages, their chance of survival after treatment is much higher. But when people see the symptoms of an illness and ignore it or misdiagnose it, or try to make believe that it’s not a big deal because it’s just a toenail or some other nonessential body part, they miss an opportunity to fix the problem, to find a remedy that will cure the sickness. We have a cancer in our community and right now, many of us are ignoring it, misdiagnosing it or trying to make believe that it’s no big deal because it’s not their state, city, or neighborhood. This false sense of safety and blatant indifference will cripple us.
In order to address this, we need to identify what the cause is. How do we allow our young people to end up in gangs instead of debate teams or science clubs? How do we allow them to find their way to corners more than they find their way to church or a mosque? How do they know what YMCMB stands for, but don’t know who the first black billionaire is?
We have to be responsible for this. We marched for Trayvon, we demonstrated for Jena 6, we MUST respond to what is happening in our urban communities. We must find or create solutions to these problems. We cannot allow this war to go unnoticed; not by us, not by anyone. This is bigger than the now. If we allow this to go on, the black community will never thrive. We have people of promise who are losing their lives senselessly. Lives that are being lost are those of could-be doctors, lawyers, inventors, entrepreneurs who will never live their full potential because we are not motivated, strong, or bold enough to stand up against violence within our own community.
We can’t expect the rest of the country to solve our problems. History tells us that they have rarely been concerned with the issues of black America until the problem comes to their door. We have to act now and fight for ourselves; if we don’t, no one else will.