I live on the Southside of Chicago, and my city has become a placeholder for the topic of gun violence. Last year (2016) there were more than 700 homicides–over 4000 shooting victims. Just writing those numbers makes me feel heavy with grief.
Of course, this isn’t just a Chicago problem. Per capita, places like New Orleans, Detroit, Baltimore and St Louis have 2-3x higher murder rates than our city.
It’s not a morbid competition, but when our president takes the issue to Twitter it begs so many questions.
Firstly, why Chicago? We’re #17 on the list; way behind DC. But we know a sub-tweet when we see one. Secondly, which “Feds”? The IRS? Most importantly, the question becomes, “to do what?”
Not lost on Trump is that this “carnage” exists primarily in the black and latino communities. Those of us who live in Chicago know that 90% of homicides take place in 1 of maybe 6 neighborhoods; mostly on the south and west sides; mostly among blacks.
Critics of movements like Black Lives Matter cite such facts and figures as counter evidence.
“The real problem is that they keep shooting themselves,” they opine (as though one ill should cancel out the other).
We’re talking about violence. But we’re talking about it as though it exists in some vacuum. It does not. And we are also talking as though guns are the only weaponry out there. They are not.
I’m a Christian, and so the Scriptural narrative informs my thinking on this. There we see humankind beset by something called “shame”; a self-hatred or insecurity. This gives rise to finger-pointing, self-preservation and murder. Eventually we find the statement “the earth was filled with violence.” God is said to grieve this.
Regardless of your faith-background, I’d invite you to accept how this narrative frames the topic of violence:
“My life at the expense of yours.”
This self-preservational inclination is violent, and its artillery defies category.
Gossip as violence. Lying as violence. Greed as violence. Shooting as violence. Indifference as violence. Silence as violence.
Most black families didn’t immigrate to the US. They were brought here violently. But they did immigrate later. We call this the Great Migration, when around 6 million blacks moved North to escape the violences of lynching, inequality and unjust incarcerations (among other things) in the Jim Crow South. They moved to places like Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore as refugees fleeing for their lives.
But they arrived to racially-prejudiced economic and political power systems. Power over housing, power over civic decisions, power over schooling, power over policing were employed violently to disadvantage them into abjection. And now many of these areas seem like long term refugee camps. Whole communities marooned; placed into dire life-and-death choices from conception. To quote Ta-Nehisi Coates, “these ghettos, each of which was as planned as any subdivision.”
Gangs and illicit activities aren’t choices. The choice is life or death. One only needs to read the story of Laquan Mcdonald to appreciate this. His society failed him from conception to death.
When someone is murdered, we understand that their life was literally taken by another. But we must soberly consider the weaponry of power and privilege and wealth as well. Might we beat those swords into plowshares? Or would we point our fingers and echo that first most violent sentiment:
“Am I my brother’s keeper?”