Target practice or a long, uphill battle to fix Chicago's murder epidemic? Take your pick.

Last Tuesday, my daughter asked me if I’d heard about Hadiya Pendleton.  She’s the 15-year-old King College Prep student who was murdered in Chicago’s Harsh Park.  My daughter looked bewildered and frightened, said that Hadiya had just been hanging out with her volleyball team, after a day of final exams, when someone came up and opened fire.  She said that Hadiya was a friend of a schoolmate at her own high school and she learned of the news on Facebook.  Then she looked at me as if I was supposed to explain it.  I just shook my head.

I feel impotent, weak, angry, frustrated, disgusted, horrified.  I’m sickened.  I’m confused.  I’m praying for this young girl’s family and friends.

These stories are coming at Chicagoans with sickening regularity.  In January alone, there were forty-five homicides in predominantly African-American communities.  Let me ask you this:  if these murders were occurring in predominantly white neighborhoods, do you think it would take long to fix this epidemic?  Are we inherently racist?  Is the fact that these murders have become commonplace in select Chicago neighborhoods given us a free pass to let the problem fester for far too long?  Feeling completely frustrated, I asked myself, what can I -- a white middle-age woman -- do about gang violence?  And then Hadiya Pendleton was murdered and I thought to myself, I'd better start doing something.

I wasn’t really sure if more gun regulation would help the problem.  After all, the gun owners I know are responsible.  They use rifles to hunt and keep them unloaded and locked when not in use.  But then I investigated the gun laws from state to state and county to county.  Talk about holes in the system.  All you have to do is drive one hour in any direction to find the guns and ammo your heart most desires -- regardless of the gun regulations where you live.

In Chicago, though, we're not using guns to hunt game.  We're using guns to slaughter each other:  45 murders in January alone with 82% of these murders shooting victims.

We are the most armed society in the history of the world.  It's estimated that Americans own 270 million guns.  That's an average of 88.9 firearms per 100 people.  If that's so, why do I no longer feel safe walking into a movie theater or a shopping mall?  And don't give me the bird-brained argument about why we need automatic or semi-automatic weaponry.  I've heard this one too many times:  If our Government takes up arms against its citizens, I'll be prepared.  Really?  You're going to take your semi-automatic against tanks and planes and missiles and hundreds of thousands of troops?  Really?  I am a teacher.  Don't try to tell me I would feel safer if I carried a gun into my classroom.  That's ridiculous on so many levels that it would take another post to contain that response.  And having armed college students?  Come on.  Students packing weapons?  Have we completely lost our minds?  Instead of target practice, do we need to relearn how to function in a peaceful society?  Or perhaps we need to build a peaceful society from the ground up.

So when are we going to get some cajones and stand up to the gun manufacturers, to the NRA, to the vocal, out-of-step fringe elements?  When will we get some sweeping, national reform – not hodge-podge gun regulation that morphs from city to suburbs and state to state?  I’m terrified at the prospect of our legislators caving in to the demands of the gun lobby (the way the Democratic leadership failed to seize momentum with filibuster reform).  It’s almost like they’re saying, ‘Look at all of the quaint and good-hearted people out there clamoring for common sense regulation…but, hey, the gun manufacturers, that’s where the money is and we don’t want to piss them off.’

I couldn’t explain to my daughter why we – Americans and Chicagoans in particular -- find ourselves in this position.  Sure, the murder rate in 2011 was down by 10% compared to Chicago's worst year in 2002.  But is that something to advertise?  Can we really be proud of that?

I feel complicit in what has now become an all too common occurrence in my city.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t spoken out.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t demanded that the Mayor treat this as an epidemic – not just isolated violence between rival gangs (not that gang violence is more palatable) -- or perhaps it’s because we, as a community, haven’t put enough pressure on the Chicago Police Department to mend community relationships in Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

Yes, I know that the majority of Chicago police officers are hard-working and honest.  Let’s face it, I wouldn’t want to be a Chicago police officer and I admire the men and women who do their job with grace and dedication and good intentions.  But the reputation of the CPD has been tarnished by the Christina Eilman tragedy, videotaped beatings of civilians by police officers and the fact that Chicago police officers are the subject of more brutality complaints per officer than the national average.

But, when it comes to illegal firearms entering the city, how can the police fix a problem on which they can’t get solid statistical information?  A startling article in The Atlantic, ‘9 Questions About Gun Violence That We May Now Be Able to Answer,’ by Emily Badger, points out that research on guns and gun violence has been shut down by the NRA’s influence on legislators.

Here’s an excerpt from that piece:

We know virtually nothing about the relationship between guns and crime because that whole research agenda has been basically shut down for years," says John Roman, a senior fellow with the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. Congress (at the prodding of gun-rights groups) has repeatedly blocked public agencies like the National Institutes of Health from funding research into gun violence. As a result, for example, the NIH has funded three such studies in the last four decades. This chart comes from a letter written Jan. 10 to Vice President Biden casting our dearth of gun research in near-ridiculous terms, comparing major NIH research awards from 1973-2012 to the cumulative morbidity associated with each condition:

CONDITION                  TOTAL CASES         NIH RESEARCH AWARDS

Cholera                           400                           212

Diphtheria                     1337                           57

Polio                                 266                           129

Rabies                                 65                           89

Total of four diseases  2068                         486

Firearm injuries      >4,000,000                     3

The University of Chicago Crime Lab

Firearm injuries:  4 million.  Three NIH research awards.

This is upside down.  And celebrity commentary -- by folks like Rush Limbaugh and his ilk -- doesn’t help.  I listen to Rush Limbaugh’s rants because, frankly, I want to know what he’s saying (I want to know his talking points so that when I hear them parroted by others, I know where they’re coming from).  Let’s face it, he’s ill-informed, dogmatic, slanted, whiny and straight-up wrong on damn-near everything.  It’s what I’ve come to expect.  He’s also persuasive, cunning, strategic and razor-sharp when he wants to make a point (no matter how far-off base).  He certainly didn’t disappoint me today:

RUSH: A 15-year-old high school student, Hadiya Pendleton, drum majorette who attended Obama's recent inauguration and performed at several inaugural events with a band and a drill team, was shot and killed in Chicago last night.  A 15-year-old high school student shot and killed in Chicago.  You heard about this?  She attended Obama's immaculation events, probably the victim of gang shooting.  But you're not gonna hear about this because an assault rifle wasn't used, so it can't be used to advance the Democrat media agenda.

Besides, it happened in Chicago, where there's a Democrat mayor.  They're not gonna talk about stuff that happens. It didn't happen.  And I don't even know how newsworthy it really is anyway since Chicago's already had at least 40 murders this month.  We had 30 days go by in Chicago and everywhere else this month so far, 40 murders.  That means that Chicago is on pace to have a record 500 murders this year.  Never mind Chicago has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. It already has an assault weapons ban in Chicago.  So the 15-year-old high school student, it wasn't an assault rifle used, so it doesn't further the agenda.

Infuriating, right?  Where do I begin?  First, Mr. Limbaugh, she might have been shot by a gang member, we don’t know, but she wasn’t a gang member nor were the other kids in the group (but, in the larger picture, should it matter?).  She was just a kid hanging out with her friends after school.  Second, we are talking about it.  Third, current gun regulations are ridiculously impotent.  Fourth...  Wait.  What did you say?  It doesn’t further the agenda?  So, in other words, progressives won’t bring this murder into the conversation because it doesn’t further the agenda -- Agenda with a capital A – of sensible gun legislation.  Why?  This was the murder of an African-American child AND she wasn't killed by an automatic or semi-automatic firearm.

Come to think of it, maybe you’re on to something there, Rush.  After all, since 2001, Chicago has had 5,000 homicides.  Most of these, about 14% are gang-related and 82% are gun-related.  Let’s put that in perspective.  Since 2001, 2,000 American troops have died in Afghanistan compared to 5,000 in Chicago.

Why isn’t there more outrage about ALL of this senseless killing?  Is it racism?  Is it underreporting?  Is it malaise?

I hope Rahm doesn’t come at this problem the way he approached Chicago Public School reform.  He pissed off his share of teachers by not involving them in the conversation sooner.  He came in, ego blazing and got all I-just-came-from-Washington-&-I’m-gonna-do-it-my-way on them and, instead of getting input, wanted to dictate policy.  This ongoing gun violence problem is something that can’t be bullied.  The city -- the Mayor’s people -- and the CPD need to listen to community members who are willing to talk.  They need to mend relationships in areas where police mistrust keeps folks from doing what they know is right.

To be fair, Emanuel inherited this nonsense but years of neglect led up to it.

Even if it’s not his fault, it’s his problem.  But it’s more than just his problem.  It’s my problem.  It’s your problem.  Change is constant.  So how can we change the city for the better?  Standing idly  by and waiting for somebody else to do it won't work.  It's going to take courageous legislative steps.  It's going to take tough parenting.  It's going to take money for social and mental health programs.  It's going to take programs to get young people engaged in something besides violent behavior.

Something has to change.  And it's going to take all of us to do it.

Comments

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  • You are right: the only reason you are concerned, I think, is because the children killed at Sandy Hook were rich and blue eyed, hitting close to your demographic home. Don't know where you live, but most days I'm out on the south side and even over to the west side paradise. I bet you have never driven south of 22nd Street on Michigan Ave, if that.

    I'm only going to point this out once, because you think a piece of iron is the problem....whether you think the Second Amendment is passe in the idea of protecting its citizens against the tyranny of government, is besides the point. That is its main purpose, and, yes, even an arm with the latest weaponry will think twice against taking the battle to their own citizens, because most urban combat is done close quarters, door-to-door. And "It" can happen here, where you have a government that can already dictate that you put mercury light bulbs into your house and that you cannot drink a 32oz drink, if you want. The defense part is important, too. If you had to circulate and live in, say, Roseland (even know where that is?), you may want to feel you have a fighting chance.

    So... if the Bill or Rights is adaptable to the current sway of some, then why stop at fiddling with the Second. Why not take a look at the first? Get rid of Limbaugh by law, and, oh, wait, censor Hollywood and music, too, because of their violent depictions. As far as I know, Limbaugh has never advocated killing people or raping them, as most of Hollywood and music does. Away with that pesky First Amendment. Let DC decide what we see hear and say.

    Problem solved.

    Cept those gangers will get what you improperly call "assault" weapons anyway. But who cares? It's the intentions that count, and you can see we have already paved the road to death and hell with them.

  • Hello,

    Thank you for your comments.

    I'm not completely convinced that stricter gun legislation will solve any of these problems. Writing is simply forces me to attempt to figure out this difficult issue. I do fear too much government intrusion. I also feel like we all have to be responsible in order to preserve our freedoms.

    Let's face it, TV hosts are there to raise our ire -- right- and left-leaning -- and make money and get ratings.

    You did give me an idea for my next blog: censorship.

    Until then, I'll be roaming around the five blocks where I live. The tether doesn't allow me to stray from my immediate area.

    Best

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