This letter is by my friend and colleague, Tamara Kaldor.
Dear Chicago Parents, President Obama, Governor Quinn & Mayor Emanuel,
This morning, I awoke to the news that Hadiya Pendleton, a 15 year-old Chicago girl, had been murdered by a spray of bullets in a neighborhood park. Only days earlier, she had performed at President Obama’s inauguration ceremony. Look at her beautiful face. So much light.
We may have ended a historic Chicago Teachers Union strike a few months ago, but many of our children are still unable to learn and the reason why is very simple. They are trapped. Our city's children are hostages in their own homes and neighborhoods because of gang violence.
When did it become commonplace for kids in this city, in this country, to display signs and beg, “Don’t shoot me” and “I want to grow up”? You won’t see these signs plastered on the doors and windows of homes on the North Side of Chicago. You won’t hear children on the North Side cry in anguish when another loved one is murdered. But the South and West Sides of Chicago are a war zone. It’s no wonder that many of us now refer to our city, a city we love, as Ch-Iraq.
Stricter gun laws are needed, which is something we all know, but even new laws won’t stop gang members from acquiring guns and hurting our children. Gang members don’t walk into gun shops or go to guns shows to get their weapons. If they want them, they will find a way to get them. What we need, what we so desperately need, is real action and real leadership so gangs stop terrorizing and recruiting our children. Where are you, Governor Quinn & Mayor Emanuel? Where are you?
THIS IS A CIVIL RIGHTS ISSUE FOR OUR CITY’S CHILDREN
Chicago is a divided city and a divided city will never thrive. Our children have a right to play safely on a public sidewalk and in public parks. They have the right to walk to school without fear of bullets. Fear for their very survival. Our children, this city’s future, are leaving school to join gangs, sell drugs and kill because we’ve given up on them. And then we’re surprised that they turn to violence. Well what should we expect?
It’s time for Mayor Emanuel, Governor Quinn and President Obama to take drastic action and call in the National Guard. This city and this country need to reclaim the South Side of Chicago, reclaim its streets, parks and schools from gangs so that ALL children can attend school safely and play outside without fear of being murdered.
I would suggest the Chicago Police Force instead of the National Guard if Chicago could fund that effort. But we can’t. Emanuel has cut our police force and the overtime costs would be too much for our broken city budget. This is a crisis, and we need outside help.
I don’t like the implications of having mostly Caucasian armed men and women in uniform come into neighborhoods that are primarily non-Caucasian. I don’t like the idea of children walking past armed guards to and from school. But the alternative is worse. Right now, our city’s children are hostages in their own homes. And we will lose them if we don’t act now.
Our military forces are currently in foreign countries so that those children can learn, their parents can go to work, and their nations can have hope for a brighter future. What about right here at home? We need National Guardsmen on every bus (during school hours) and street corner (before school, after school, and evenings) in neighborhoods where the largest number of shootings are happening.
We need to send a message to the gangs who have turned neighborhoods, streets and parks into their battlefields. We need to tell Chicago gangs that they can’t recruit our children into a life of drugs and violence. Instead, we need a new recruiting system, one that gets all of our children on track to participate in building a vibrant future for our city.
The murder of young children has to END now. The beautiful, resilient, smart, and articulate children who told their stories to Diane Sawyer on Nightline in December must have the same opportunities as my child.
January 2013 is almost over. 45 homicides have already occurred, making this year the highest murder rate since 2002. I stopped counting in 2012 when the number reached higher than troops killed in Afghanistan at 421 murders by gunfire. The violence must stop. Chicago parents, President Obama, Governor Quinn & Mayor Emanuel, please, it must stop now.
Tamara Kaldor, Chicago