In Chicago and cities around the nation, our youth are dying in the streets. As public officials brace for a summer spike in violent crime, some are even calling for military intervention. It’s time to stop the madness and address the root of the problem.
In addition to allowing us an opportunity to remember our fallen servicemen and women, Memorial Day weekend also signals the coming of summer.
There was a time when its arrival meant swimming pools and ice cream trucks, family vacations, and fun in the sun.
Unfortunately, today, for too many people in our communities, summer means that youth will die.
Here in Chicago, as I read articles, hear news reports, and listen to people talk about the anticipated violence of summer 2010, I am dissatisfied with the measures being taken to prevent blood from flowing in the streets. In fact, I am becoming increasingly more suspicious of the government efforts to “solve” the problem, and more convinced that the problem is not theirs to solve in any event.
Over the last 15 years, the statistics concerning Black-on-Black violence have gotten worse. And in these years, efforts to stop the violence have not worked. Curfews have failed. More police patrolling the streets of high-risk neighborhoods have failed. Metal detectors in the schools have failed. Surveillance cameras, with their flashing blue lights, mounted atop telephone poles have failed.
Despite the fact that these attempts to solve the problem have not worked, our communities are still flooded with police and cameras. Public schools have security guards, surveillance cameras, metal detectors, mandatory student uniforms, and transparent book bags. Every year there is a new idea that supposedly will be the one to stop the violence — but just like the radical ideas from all the other years, they fail.
Recently in Chicago, there was an idea to call in the National Guard to help the police stem the rising tide of urban violence. Is the only way to stop violence in Black communities to infringe on the privacy of all community members and intimidate them with a military-like presence?
The truth of the matter is that the aforementioned efforts have not worked and are not the best answers to the violence problem. The surveillance cameras do little to deter or solve crimes, and the police seem to occupy our neighborhoods rather than protect them. These efforts only add to the hostility, tension, and frustration that serve as a spark for much of the violence in the first place. If we really want to prevent the violence, we have to attack the cause. If my shoulder is bleeding, a Band-Aid on my forearm will not help. Neither will a Band-Aid on my hand or leg. But that is what seems to be happening in the case of violence in our communities. Much of the attention to curb violence has been misdirected and does not address the source of the problem.
Not long ago, I picked up a used social psychology text book. After reading the first chapter, I was reminded that violent behavior has long been a topic of interest among scholars. The various theories that have been tested over the years have revealed that the problem of violence is not one of inherent delinquency. What follows is a short excerpt from the text book. As you read, consider the solutions being offered up by today’s politicians and so-called experts. Do blue-light cameras, more policemen, metal detectors, etc. address what this book identifies as the source of the problem?
“… frustrating situations make people angry and increase their tendency to act aggressively. This is called the frustration-aggression hypothesis. It predicts that when people are blocked from achieving a desired goal, they feel frustrated and angry and are more likely to lash out…. The frustration-aggression hypothesis can also explain how large-scale economic and societal factors CREATE [emphasis mine] situations that lead to violence and crime. For instance, people who are poor and crowded into urban slums are frustrated. They cannot get good jobs, find affordable housing, provide a safe environment for their children, and so on. This frustration may produce anger, which can be the direct cause of violent crime” (Social Psychology, Prentice Hall, Eleventh Edition, 2006).
In our cities, people often commit crimes because they are frustrated, because they are poor, because they feel there’s no other option. People do not commit crimes, violent or non-violent, based on the absence of a surveillance camera or law-enforcement officer. People don’t steal because they want to be cool. People don’t join gangs because they don’t have a family. People don’t sell drugs to pass the time. People do these things because they’re hungry — both physically and spiritually. They do these things because they’re poor, because their angry, because they’re afraid.
This vantage point is important because, as I said before, if you don’t address the right source of the problem you will never arrive at the right solution to the problem.
To be honest, I am no longer convinced that the attempts of the government are well thought out or even submitted with the expectation to truly solve the problem. More often than not, the “solutions” are offered as quick fixes to keep voters placated or to keep certain public officials gainfully employed.
So, what do we do now? What can we do to rebuild, strengthen, and protect our own communities?
We have to do something. We cannot let news reports cause us to feel overwhelmed and powerless. We cannot push aside our responsibility to the youth in our community because we think someone in a high place is working on a solution. We have to do something. Here are a few suggestions for actions we can take ourselves:
1. We must seek and pray. Seeking God’s wisdom through faithful and consistent spiritual practices help to discipline people and to provide them with a healthy outlet for venting frustration.
2. We must educate ourselves. We cannot respond to our problems with frustration. We must learn more than what the media is telling us about these problems. We must also learn our history so we can see what methods were effective under certain circumstances. We can use this knowledge to think creatively about how to address current and, in many cases, worsening conditions.
3. We must downsize. We cannot get sidetracked by American consumerism, teaching our children and younger people to purchase expensive materials and possessions to the point of going into debt, or robbing and killing to get what they want.
4. We must respect each other. Unity and community are not a thing of the past. In fact, African Americans coined the phrase “unity in the community.” We have to make a concerted effort to instill in our youth (whether we know them personally or not) that there is certain behavior that is unacceptable — and that killing your brother or sister is an extreme example of this unacceptable behavior.
5. We must fight poverty and we must fight any system that allows poverty. This is one of the chief causes of crime and violence. We cannot passively accept, or participate in, unjust economic systems that thrive on keeping a certain segment of society below the poverty line.
6. We must focus on better parenting. Many of our youth have little to no idea of what is right vs. wrong because they do not have responsible adults guiding them. As younger children they are taught that mischievous behavior is “cute” or worthy of being overlooked or handled lightly. This only perpetuates the misbehavior and adversely affects the structures/rules set by schools and greater society. This inevitably leads to trouble and the aforementioned frustration. We must learn to reprimand our children fairly and effectively and not be “scared” of DCFS or police intervention for being an active parent. Remember who the adult is and who the child is.
7. We must stop making excuses. The fact that we have multiple jobs, or work at night or on the weekends, does not exonerate us from being active parents to our children. In fact, it requires us to work even harder to be present and involved with our youth. The connection to our children, now more than ever, is of grand importance.
Summer is coming. Let’s pray that it’s a safe and positive one for our youth. And let each of us ask ourselves: Will I be a part of the solution or the problem?