I’ve been upset about all of the violence percolating in Chicago, primarily concentrated in poor African-American communities like mine, but I’ve not been upset enough. I haven’t marched or attended a vigil or worn a hoodie. I haven’t written letters to the chief of police and Mayor Rahm Emanuel about this particular issue nor have I joined Cease Fire or posted one of those “Don’t Shoot, I Want to Grow Up” stickers in my front window. I haven’t sold my home for half of what it’s worth in order to escape the hood, keep my child safe, have a “better” quality of life, or simply ignore the issue. Maybe it’s because I know that even if I disassociate and fall prey to black flight, the issue is still there, looming and lurking.
This still doesn’t explain why I’m not exponentially more phased by the violence in my backyard. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been desensitized by the gunshots I can often hear on hot, summer nights. Maybe it’s because this level of violence isn’t new to me, to us. I remember the 1980’s when Los Angeles youth seemed to be dying in bullet-ridden droves as a result of the long-standing feud between the Crips and Bloods. In the 90’s, I vividly remember when Washington, D.C. a.k.a. the Murder Capital, Baltimore, Maryland a.k.a. Bodymore or Murderland, New Orleans, Lousiana a.k.a. Chopper City, and Little Rock, Arkansas all had their deadly spurts and were splattered all over the news as the most dangerous cities in America.
Now it’s Chicago’s turn to rise to a level of malaise that stirs the nation into taking a tiny peek into the dark underbelly of the Black community, this culture of violence that manifests like shingles, always in the blood and ready to flare up as soon as the conditions are ripe enough. The reason why many of us don’t bat an eye about the violence, though we may shake our heads is because we are accustomed to being sick. We are used to this illness that pervades our communities and though it may simmer down occasionally, we know that when we are weak socially, spiritually, and economically, the disease will be triggered again, albeit in a new location.
The black community is a microcosm of American society which is also steeply entrenched in violence as a means of power and control. We’d like to think that we only fight in the name of freedom and it’s the narrative of many Americans who fight to keep their guns in order to be able to kill at will. We use our guns not to fight for freedom oftentimes, but to terrorize each other and other nations. And it is shameful and regressive. Like our fellow Americans, we have become intracultural terrorists, killing and instilling fear in our own. Though we know what we have become, we refuse to be accountable. It’s easier to blame an “enemy” outsider ala the Trayvon Martin murder. When it’s a non-Black who kills one of us, we mobilize and protest the horror and inequality of it, but each day we murder each other across America and too often, the deceased gets no more than some flowers, balloons, and a cross tacked to a tree or lamp post along a city street. When we kill each other, it’s not outrage we show, but destitution.
We have become hopeless and complacent about the violence that has a chokehold on us and our youth. We know that most of the murders are happening due to gang and drug-related drama between poor, young black men while others get caught in the crossfire. And like the media and the courts, I’d like to write these young boys off as the problem and blame them for their actions, but it’s hard when I see what’s causing them to shoot. They are indeed to blame for their actions, but so are we. These young men have grown so violent and disconnected because we are. They reflect us and our communities at its worst. We have systematically stopped raising our children and as a result, have lost a critical connection with today’s black youth. Worse, we fear them more than guide them. One cannot connect with, support or love that which he fears. These children whom we see as little monsters are hurting emotionally and we know that hurt people will inevitably hurt other people or hurt themselves. Today’s black teens are angry because life is hard and many of the adults around them have failed them.
We have failed when these children don’t believe that we love them. We have failed when these children refuse to love themselves. We have failed when these children have never been shown affection. We have failed when our children walk around with no manners or self-respect. We have failed when our children think that manhood means being able to tote a gun instead of a book and are willing to kill anyone who threatens that sense of manhood. We have failed when our children no longer care about themselves or anyone else. And many of them don’t. We have failed when our response to the violence is, “It is what it is.” This is not what it has to be. We have a choice. We have solutions.
We must care again, care deeply enough to help the children in our communities (and not just the “good ones”) whose hate and anger is literally killing them. We must instill morals again instead of letting the streets, music and television raise our children. We must teach them skills and get them engaged in healthy, positive activities. In a city where only 6% of ChicagoPublic School students will earn a bachelor’s degree, we must make education non-negotiable. We must stop making poverty the excuse for poor graduation rates and poor character. They are not mutually exclusive. We must stop sitting in silence when we see our teens making horrible choices. We must speak up. We must be positive role models and mentor, formally and informally. We must stand up for our children. And indeed, the most revolutionary thing we can do is start giving out mass hugs to the youth. Our children need hugs, and big ones.
It sounds too simple and hokey to be effective, but I assure you it will work. Our children lack hugs, affection, care, protection, support, and love. When one doesn’t have his basic human needs met like the need for positive touch and affection, he isn’t able to connect with others. If one can’t connect emotionally, then he will lack empathy. Without concern for other individuals, those other individuals become objects – objects who are easier to kill like a video game where there is no remorse, feeling or thought of consequences. When we hear each other addressed as “nigga” more than “brother” or “sister”, we know that the connectivity has been lost. The fabric of the community has been torn and it’s up to us to sew it back together again. Just as we are responsible for creating our sickness, we are responsible for providing the cure. Violence is not our birthright. Our children and our community can be healed. Let’s prepare for surgery.