CHICAGO, February 26, 2013 — Rahm Emanuel clearly states “the uncomfortable fact that the overwhelming majority of perpetrators and victims of gun crimes are minority males between the ages of 16 and 25” (Chicago Sun Times). Meaning that is not the wealthy, white youth killing each other.
It’s a bold statement for a politician, but then Chicago likes a bold politician. A politician who has the gall to try to convince his wealthy, white constituents that even though they are not the killers or the victims, the fact that Chicago’s young people are killing each other is their problem, too.
But why? Why are Chicago’s minority youth killing each other? Is there something about Chicago that has created a generation intent on wiping each other, and itself, out?
The Windy City, so named for its orators, has a long line of strong African-American leadership. From Jean Baptiste Point duSable, Chicago’s first permanent settler, to the Reverend Jesse Jackson and President Barack Obama, Chicago’s African-American youth have a long line of leaders to look to for guidance.
Unfortunately, at a time when there should be more role models for youth to look to than ever before, there are few that are modeling good behavior.
The strongest leader in Chicago’s African-American community today is the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Jackson overcame great odds to become a champion for civil rights. Born as an ostracized out-of-wedlock child raised in a segregated southern town, Jackson cried out for equality for all, even as he was hiding an out-of-wedlock child, the result of an extra-marital affair.
The man who appeared to be looking for racial unity in 1969 when he told the New York Times “When we change the race problem into a class fight between the haves and the have-nots, then we are going to have a new ball game” is the same man who called New York City “Hymietown” in 1984. In 2007, Jackson criticized President Obama for “acting like he’s white.” What does that mean?
There was new hope for the next generation in the form of Jesse Jackson, Jr. For a little while, anyway. Now Jesse, Jr. is going to jail for misusing campaign funds.
Chicago’s moral, and political, leaders aren’t leading at all. And perhaps today’s young people have become so disillusioned with what they’ve seen from their leaders that they refuse to be lead. They are finding their own way, in their own kill-or-be-killed society.
Might makes right, and you get all the might you need from a gun.
In the past, power gangs ruled Chicago’s underworld. After the Feds took down the Al Capone-type hierarchies, gangs like the Gangster Disciples stepped in. When Chicago police managed to get the Disciples’ bosses behind bars, rather than disbanding, the gangs fragmented.
Harper High School on Chicago’s south side has an attendance area of approximately two square miles. Fifteen gangs are represented within those two square miles. According to a recent This American Life, some of the gangs have no one in charge. It is the Wild, Wild, Midwest.
But all of them have guns and 29 present and former Harper students were shot. Eight died.
Jesse Jackson has some ideas about how to handle the violence. Of course, they do not directly involve his leadership. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal (see excerpts), Jackson stated, “In a place like Chicago, we need Homeland Security, not just the local police.” That weekend, he urged President Obama to come to Chicago to bring attention to Chicago’s youth violence.
Less than a week later, Obama was here. A few hours after he spoke, the sister of one of the students standing behind him was gunned down.
We don’t need the President staging photo ops, the children forgotten moments after he steps from behind podium. What Chicago’s minority youth need now is guidance and leadership.
They need people to stop talking about them and start listening to them. Harper’s principal, Leonetta Sanders, and her administrative team, Vice Principal Chad Adams and social workers Crystal Smith and Anita Stewart, spend their days connecting with and listening to students and helping them navigate between math and murder.
Harper’s administrators know the neighborhood. They know their students and their families and affiliations. They know the gangs. They know their AAR (After Action Review, a plan modeled on the AAR used by the U.S. Army and implemented after every act of violence, on campus or off, that may affect their students) as well as they know their fire drill routine.
But Harper’s team cannot stop the violence. For one thing, Harper is only one high school in one neighborhood. There are many others. By some accounts, Harper is not even the most dangerous school in the city.
There is a huge leadership void in Chicago’s poverty-stricken community. Eventually, someone is going to fill it.
But that leadership has to be able to put its own ego aside and not assume they already know the problems and have the answers. They must listen so much more than they speak.
Hopefully the new leadership will resemble Harper’s administrators more than it resembles the Gangster Disciples.
Maybe Chicago needs Homeland Security. Maybe a ban on high-capacity ammo and assault weapons would help. Maybe things will improve when the economy goes up and people get jobs. There are a lot of Maybe’s.
What is certain is that Chicago’s youth deserve leadership that respects them enough to stop talking at them, lose the self-aggrandizing hypocrisy, and start listening to what is really going on. Jackson and Obama are not up to the job.
One other thing is certain as well. The children are still dying.
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