Chicago has a violent history. We can look back to the Race Riots of 1919, during what was called the Red Summer of 1919, which had the nation on its heels. We can even go a bit further down the historical timeline to the prohibition era event such as the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, in which rival gangs led by Al Capone and Bugs Moran engaged in a killing spree. Or, we can walk into contemporary times in which pervasive gang violence forces mothers to bury their sons, daughters and other loved ones due to malevolent acts and disregard for human life. Is this all that the city Chicago represents? Is is really the gangster city of America, or is that an unfair label?
The more recent acts of violence in Chicago are quite disconcerting on many levels. The new Mayor, Rahm Emanuel (former United States Congress and White House Chief of Staff) had essentially pledged to clean up the city, but since his arrival in May of last year homicides and violent crimes have been up by 50 percent, according to the Huffington Post. Even though he and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy are pushing for anti-gang legislation and initiatives it forces me to ask one central question of: will it work? We have seen from city to city the anti-gang initiatives and measures and they only seem to do more harm than good. While the intentions may be noble, the practice usually falls flat. I can vividly envision the headlines that probably will come out of this situation. I can’t help but to get stuck in a cloud of pessimism with these types of pronouncements of “help.” I can only see more profiling, more violence and the problems of this city getting worse. What should be done then if not this to assuage the anguish that now engulfs the windy city?
The solution I offer is simple. The community needs to take this initiative into their own hands. It’s that old argument of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps that will work. Now don’t think that I am naive to the fact that some government assistance is necessary to complete this project successfully. However, a full on blitz to address this problem alone is not only the wrong approach but highly irresponsible for the city. Community leaders, organizers, ministers, teachers, coaches, small business owners need to understand the collective responsibility aspect because what King said still rings true and that is “ we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” They must know what affects one or a few directly, affects us all indirectly. It’s time for the people to take back their city. 53 shootings in one week really should light a fire in this city to take a stand against violence before the victim is someone they hold dear to their hearts.
Growing up in a community that has experienced violence (while not on the level of Chicago), I know all too well what it feels like to attend funerals for friends and loved one who have met their demise before it was that time. One thing that has happened here and must happen around the nation is that we as active citizens in this democracy must be cognizant of our collective responsibility in a community that is decaying. Furthermore, we must reject our private comforts for the public interest. We owe this to ourselves and our posterity. I would beseech the city of Chicago and its citizens to reject the comforts of their private lives to engage in an act of saving their community. Now, this may sounds overly optimistic, but I still have faith in American ingenuity and benevolence. This is a time for faith and a time for action. Chicago has gotten through some tough times before and I have no doubt that they can do it again.