Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Thanks, Bob-- and Barack...


A couple of days ago, the New York Times editorial writer Bob Herbert wrote about a stop that Illinois Senator and Presidential hopeful Barack Obama made in Chicago. He talked about something that's getting covered by the Sun Times, one of Chicago's big newspapers, but seems to have made news little outside Chicago: the 34 Chicago Public School students that were murdered this school year. This story is very personal to me; one of those students, Marcel Collins, was my student.

In 1988, Laurie Dann, a woman suffering from mental illness, went on a shooting rampage through the affluent Chicago suburb of Winnetka, killing one child, eight-year-old Nicholas Corwin, and wounding several others. This was instantly a national news story. People in Winnetka cried that their "innocence" was lost.

Why, then, was the killing of one child a national tragedy while the murder of 34 has not registered? It might happen to be that most of the kids killed in Chicago are latino or African-American, and mostly poor.

Thanks, Mr. Herbert, for shedding some light on this. And thanks, Mr. Obama, for noticing. I think I've made my decision about the Democratic primary this spring.

From the New York Times, July 17, 2007

"Senator Barack Obama took his presidential campaign to Chicago Sunday, where he addressed an agonizing issue that has been largely overlooked by the national media — the murder of dozens of the city’s public school students since last September.

Speaking to an overflow crowd of worshipers at the Vernon Park Church of God, Mr. Obama, a resident of Chicago, said:

"I asked to come here because I wanted to talk with you about the spate of violence that’s been robbing the city’s children of their future. In this last school year, 32 Chicago public school students were killed, and even more since the school year ended. This past week alone, two teens were shot in a South Side schoolyard."

You’ve probably heard more than you wanted to about David Beckham and Posh Spice in recent days, but not a lot about the deaths of these children and teenagers in Chicago. Black, Latino and poor, they are America’s invisible children.

"In one Chicago public school," said Mr. Obama, "a teacher was calling attendance, and when she got to the name of a particular student who wasn’t there and had missed a lot of classes, she asked if anyone knew where he was. And the answer she got was, 'He’s dead.'"

He mentioned another school: "In Room 104 at Avalon Park Elementary School, an empty chair is pushed against the wall in memory of Quinton Jackson, the eighth grader who used to sit there, and who was stabbed to death a few months ago."

And he mentioned Blair Holt, 16, who was riding home from school on a city bus when a gunman opened fire. "As the bullets flew, and Blair was shot," the senator said, "he pulled a friend onto a seat and saved her life. And as he was driven to the hospital, where he would pass away a short time later, he asked the paramedics to tell his parents that he loved them."

Over the past school year, Mr. Obama said, the number of public school students killed in Chicago was higher than the number of soldiers from the entire state of Illinois who were killed in Iraq during that period.

As I mentioned in a previous column on this issue, Chicago is hardly alone when it comes to the slaughter of youngsters who are living in conditions that can fairly be compared to combat.

"From South-Central L.A. to Newark, New Jersey," said Senator Obama, "there’s an epidemic of violence that’s sickening the soul of this nation. For the third year in a row, violent crime and murder are on the rise nationwide. As we’ve all borne witness to here in Chicago, this is partly due to the rise of gang violence. The F.B.I. says there are now more gang members on our nation’s streets than police officers."

The senator talked about the need for more stringent gun control laws, and he criticized the Bush administration for "decimating" a Clinton administration initiative that had added more than 100,000 police officers to local departments.

He said governments need to do more to combat gangs and gang violence and invest more in after-school programs that provide an alternative to the streets for vulnerable youngsters.

But he added, "There is only so much government can do." There is also a need, he said, "for a change in attitude."

The senator talked about the young men and boys who have gone down "the wrong path." And he said one of the main reasons they are wreaking havoc and shooting one another is that they had not received enough attention while growing up from responsible adults.

"We’re not reading to them," he said. "We’re not sitting down with them and talking to them. We’re not guiding them. We’re not disciplining them."

In a conversation yesterday, he stressed that the plight of young people struggling in tough environments demands both governmental attention and a heightened sense of individual responsibility. Both are essential.

He said in his speech that he will keep fighting in Washington for more money and more programs. “But that money and those programs,” he said, “will not make any difference unless we have a change of heart.”

He also noted that there was tremendous grief across the country when the massacre at Virginia Tech happened last April, "and rightfully so." But with 34 schoolkids dead in Chicago since the beginning of the last school year, he said, “for the most part, there has been silence.”

It’s important, he said, that Americans reach a mind-set in which “we care just as much” about the children slain in Chicago as those killed at Virginia Tech. "

5 comments:

cheer34 said...

It is the same all over. Programs can only help so much. It is the responsibilty of the community to raise the children. The problem with that though is that the community is frozen with fear and a collective sigh of it's an impossible task. The intentional murders that are taking place are killing not only the intended victim but the innocent bystanders as well. Drugs and the lure of that money are taking young children out of the education system. Our city high school drop out rate is 69%. Children are having children. No one is caring for the kids because the parents are in jail or dead. Aunties and grandmothers are responsible for so many relatives children they can not cope. The government programs are over whelmed and can not provide services to everyone in need.

So what is a community to do? We can not continue on the path we are on. At times the path improves only to turn around and head us back down the same way. People give up, services are cut, dunderheads come into office to make changes and cause worse problems. No one solution will cure the hopelessness so ingrained in the community.

As a country we need to focus on ourselves. Cure our illness of hopelessness then move on to taking care of the world.

Bubs said...

Part of the relative lack of attention is that the deaths in Chicago come one at a time, over months, and become, sadly, part of the background noise of poor urban life the way it's reported on the news. I guarantee if 5 or 6 kids got killed at once on the steps of some Chicago public school, you'd see a big response.

The problem is that so many things are wrong at once, dreadfully wrong, and the potential solutions so complex, that most people just shut down in the face of that. And the problem gets worse.

For what it's worth, there's a new report out on gang crime that suggests that law enforcement responses are exacerbating the problem, basically creating more and harder gang members by incarcerating young men, and it calls for more early intervention.

deadspot said...

Screw you, Bob Herman.
When you hate on Becks and Posh,
the terrorists win.

Johnny Yen said...

Cheer34-
I absolutely agree. I look at Rome as a historical model. They squandered their resources expanding and collapsed from within. We need to focus on problems at home.

Bubs-
I agree. I can always tell the students that just got out of lock-up or a longer term. There's a hardness there. Prisons are like crime schools. Like you said, the solutions are not simple or easy. But they are necessary.

Deadspot-
You know that Andreas is doing immigration law, don't you? Companies are having difficulty getting trained, educated IT professionals into the country. Funny-- do you think Posh and Becks had trouble at the Customs booth?

'Bubbles' said...

Fundamental principles are always playing around us. Rome - an excellent example. Corporate America - same analogy. If we forget the fundamental principles of our existence (what makes us strong, why we exist in the first place) we will rot from within. Greed, power, control, forcing our wills (religions) on others... result in rot from within because our eye is taken off the prize - which is being human and respecting other humans.

Obama is wise in his words. In your opinion, JY, can he manuever a system like ours to a point of understanding these ideas?

Regardless, at least he is in tune with reality. That's so f'ing refreshing, huh?