In one of our usual strolls through the Cabrini Green row-houses, the sidewalks were abandoned and the air eerily still. Where was everybody? We soon understood. As soon as we spotted our teenage friends, an unmarked police car swooped onto the scene, spilling out armored policemen running in pursuit of them. The young men were handcuffed to each other, patted down and taunted while background checks were run. During this process, the police chortled in satisfaction as they mocked them and chipped away at their dignity, flexing their power and privileged position. Eventually, all of the four teenagers were released without charges. Some lives matter less than others.
Brother Jim and I continually struggle to get individuals their state IDs, so they can apply for services or obtain a job. Brother Jim, because of a government connection, was recently able to take three individuals and bypass the usual requirements, successfully getting them their proper identification. A phone call was all it took. On their own, these individuals were denied, but because of the value of Brother Jim to the community, the same individuals now had access. In that same Secretary of State’s office, however, individuals without an advocate remained frustrated from the process, unable to get the papers they needed, and shown no sympathy. Some lives matter less than others.
Have you heard of Ronnie Chambers? Jovantay Alexander? We attended their funerals recently. They met the same fate that Hadiya Pendelton did. They too, had mothers who mourned, knees weak at the loss of their children. They too, had packed funerals, and friends with cherished memories of their lives. They too were shot at a far too young age. But their lives did not matter to the media. The First Lady did not visit. No one outside of Chicago, much less within its borders, even stopped to flinch at the tragedy. When presenting this fact, even my fellow seminarian students challenged me: “Well, face it. They aren’t seen as people. They are monsters.” The first “monster” led a music production company that was elevating guys from the streets and helping them to get music contracts and away from the violence. The second “monster” was an unknown 19-year-old, with no visible gang connection, shot dead for hanging out in a place other than where he lived. Some lives matter less than others.
Even if these facts weren’t the case, even if these were the most hardcore criminals, they are not irredeemable “monsters.” In Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 25:31-46), Jesus explains that loving the least is loving Christ. Why do these “monsters” commit acts that scare the general public? Because when they were hungry, no one fed them. When they cried out for justice, no one answered them. When they were in prison, no one visited them except the gang recruiter on the inside. When they sat in the kindergarten classroom unable to read, no one taught them. Society’s love or hatred determined their fate. Because some lives mattered less than others, the least were left behind.
Violence will not end until we love one another, even the harshest of criminals. If you look at the tragedies of our nation—Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech, and every shooting of Chicago, a background of abused, unloved, thrown-away people precedes their acts of violence. Before they were perpetrators, they were victims, denied the love that belongs to even the “least.” Do not let community boundaries, the media, criminal status, or any other classification determine who you love and value. Let that determination be made by Christ, who taught us to love our neighbor—all of them—as ourselves.
~Megan Cottam, BSL
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