“Man, I ain’t never gonna step foot in that Colorado place. First they had Columbine, and now this Batman stuff. Those people are crazy!” All the guys were in agreement as we hung around the Row Houses last Friday afternoon.
I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the dialogue on the streets of Cabrini-Green, home of the notorious killing fields, various gang factions, violence, and instability. Numb to the everyday reality of street violence, these former gangbangers were scared to go to Aurora, Colorado.
Comparing violence in quantitative ways can never grasp the terror of the situation for the victims and their families. In no way is what happened in that Aurora movie theater any more or less tragic than a gang shooting. But the stark contrast in reactions of the public to different types of violence does need to be called into question.
Recently, articles have sprung up comparing the death rates in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Chicago homicide rate. One recent post cited that “since the War in Afghanistan began in late 2001, around 2,000 US soldiers have lost their lives while fighting for Uncle Sam; during that same span of time, homicides in Chicago have exceeded 5,000.” (http://rt.com/usa/news/chicago-afghanistan-city-us-108/) Others have referred to the city colloquially as “Chiraq” as the murder rate climbs steadily with each passing week. Based on news coverage, however, you would never guess that less people died in the war.
Why is there such a disconnect between the violence in the movie theater, on the battlefield, and in the streets and homes of the poor?
Where’s our press? Where do the fallen victims get their TV debuts citing the ways they were meaningful to their families and where as a nation do we get to mourn the inundation of dead young male bodies? The recent shooting victims and war heroes have been deemed human tragedies by the media, while the victims of gang crime in Chicago are mere criminals and responsible for their own demise. They are no longer humans, teenagers and young men without meaningful lives and futures.
The murders in Chicago are tucked between the middle of newspapers, names thrown into paragraphs among other names without any description that goes beyond “gangbanger.” These victims are denied their mourning because of the choices they’ve made at age 10 or 12. They are victim to the streets with mothers, siblings, and friends of their own who must face their shocking absence all the same. When a shooting does make the news, it is only because the victim was not affiliated with a gang, such as a small child who was inadvertently hit by a bullet.
There is no visit from President Obama to his own hometown, hugging mothers and talking to victims who have been shot and survived the horrors of the street this summer. When the reports come out that 12 are shot dead in a weekend, no one flinches. Why do some lives matter more than others?
The Aurora shootings have sparked multiple debates about gun control laws, mental health practices, and other safety measures. The nation asks: How can we prevent this in the future? The news has found ways to explain why someone would go to such desperate measures to kill. There must have been some circumstance or struggle that led the young man to do such an unthinkable act.
Is it wrong to demand this same dialogue on the streets of Chicago? Where are the politicians stepping forward with policy changes for the poor? Why is no one looking at the reasons why young boys join gangs and resort to killing each other?
These unnamed and unmourned gangbangers are Americans, too, who have joined gangs to meet their basic needs. Until we as a nation acknowledge that these too are our brothers and sisters plagued by violence and tragedy, there will not be an end to the violence. No matter how many beat cops suppress a block, gang members will not simply submit to an authority that does not also protect and nurture them.
Just as the violence in Aurora was a call for change, the violence in Chicago is a stark signal that something must be done for the poor. Chicago has tried to erase the poor, by adding more cops and prisons, and demolishing public housing, for example. However, the poor find new homes, and new places to live. When they move, they take their problems with them. They still need to find food and shelter. They are still unemployable, whether because of an inferior education or a criminal record. No matter how many abandoned lots are torn down, they will not be replaced by functioning homes and businesses unless the nation chooses to make an investment in these neighborhoods. The cycle will continue until people choose to acknowledge the human dignity and value of life within these communities and take a stand to love their neighbor—yes, even the one on the wrong side of the tracks.
So, America, what will it be? Ultimately, you decide when the gang wars end.
Megan Sherrier, BSL
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