Chicago loses more black kids than soldiers in Iraq to gun violence.
Recently in Chicago, a teen gunman boarded a crowded public bus near a high school and opened fire with a handgun. I imagined this scene must have been similar to the bus bombings that are so common in wartorn Iraq.
As I researched this analogy, I found striking similarities between what is happening in black communities across the United States and what is happening in a full-fledged war zone in Iraq. The major difference is that far more black children are dying in Chicago than Chicago soldiers are dying in Iraq.
At about 24 deaths a year, Chicago children are being killed 24 times the rate that Chicago soldiers are being killed in Iraq. Statistics from Military Genealogy Trails show that during the five-year period between September 2001 and July 2006, six soldiers from Chicago were killed in Iraq combat. In a startling comparison, however, during an eight-year period between 1998 and 2007, 190 Chicago Public School children, mostly black, died in gun-related incidents.
This year, the violent death toll in nine months totals 27 for Chicago's public school students, again, mostly black youth.
Chicago is no different than any other city, because deadly violence in the lives of black children today is a constant, overwhelming reality in America.
Unlike the massacre at Virginia Tech, where 32 people were gunned down, no national or international outcry is voiced against the gun violence that easily and frequently destroys black children. Nor is there the kind of grief counseling and support that Virginia Tech students received. It seems that the lives of Virginia Tech students are intrinsically more valuable than the lives of black children who live in ghettos and mostly poor communities across America. And, sadly, the black community's reaction to the massacre of its children can only be described as "ambivalent."
For many black children in America, the war in their schools and communities is far more deadly than the war in Iraq. Too many black children fight with their teachers, their parents, the authorities and each other. The actions of these children terrorize their communities. The fighting and the violence have seeped down into kindergarten and pre-school. Because of severe living conditions, too many black children -- especially black males -- early on have become hardened and calloused toward life. They are suspended more, expelled more, arrested more, fight more and die more violent deaths than children of any other race.
In 2005, a typical year of carnage in black communities in the United States, FBI statistics reported that 3,289 black people were killed -- which included hundreds of school-aged children -- and most were killed by gunfire.
All of this adds up to a kind of wartime mentality that directs black children away from education, playing and learning and, instead, toward violence, aggression and death. Their lives of constant exposure to killing make these children unafraid of death. Many black children cannot imagine themselves alive in the future.
The shame of America is that there is no organized outcry against this violence that is consuming black children. In fact, the media, the faith community, our government, the black leadership and even the black community itself have not given the kind of attention the violence against black children demands.
Many of us who are working to help solve this problem are centered on the symptoms instead of the solutions that get to the root cause. We must have solutions that are structured, comprehensive, institutional, long-term and effective.
Although the most powerful immediate role must be played by parents, families and communities, those who must help solve this problem also include the church, the police, the schools, the courts, elected officials, social workers, foundations, the business community and, most importantly, black men themselves.
Three points must be covered to fix this problem:
- Rebuild the black family. Every major problem in the black community, including poor education, massive unemployment, hyper-incarceration, high mortality rates and senseless violence, can be traced to the disintegration of the black family.
- Provide black boys with strong, positive black men as mentors, role models and, particularly, a connection to their fathers. Black boys, like any other children, will become what they see.
- Control the negative peer culture and electronic media that mold some black boys and men into violent, irresponsible, uncaring human beings. This is the way, and the only way, to fix this problem.
Without a solution, makeshift memorials of teddy bears and "RIP" balloons will keep springing up across America's graveyards as we continue to plant black children like flowers. And the rest of the world will continue to see America for the hypocrite that it is because it advocates human rights for every other country while it does nothing about the "silent genocide" of black children here at home. Shame on America!