As the gun-control debate rages on and the New Year draws near, a sobering statistic, one barely talked about, was released. Chicago has reportedly reached 500 shooting deaths for 2012, with the city's hospital ERs serving as a revolving door for bullet-ridden youths, some among them innocent children. This unbelievable number is higher than the US fatalities in war-torn Afghanistan. Digest this for a minute. Happy New Year, America.
The horrendous Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., has galvanized the nation into a verbal duel, with anti-gun advocates butting heads with gun enthusiasts, including the National Rifle Association. We have the head of the NRA calling for armed guards in schools, while pro-gun-control citizens and groups call for tighter gun legislation.
Celebrities star in PSAs, demanding the nation do better by its children and put an end to the gun violence. All this chatter is good start, but sadly it took 20 young children and six of their educators being brutally murdered in suburbia to light a fire under America.
Meanwhile, gang violence escalates in the inner cities of Chicago and elsewhere, with only a whisper of outrage from a few concerned citizens. Citizens like Fr. Michael Pfleger, who held a vigil in 2011 to remember the 260 children killed by guns over the last three years.
Or Diane Latiker, whose tireless work trying to save Chicago’s kids from gang violence earned her a spot as one of CNN’s heroes of the year in 2011. In 2003, Latiker, a mother of eight and grandmother to 13, started Kids Off the Block, a one-woman army going up against the hardcore gangs of her city.
Then there was ABC’s Diane Sawyer and her TV special “Hidden America,” in which she attempted to shine a national spotlight on the disturbingly high level of gun violence in Chicago. The program aired Oct. 17 and 18 on both “The Evening News with Diane Sawyer” and “Nightline.” Sawyer, in collaboration with former basketball star Isaiah Thomas, met with rival gangs and showcased a Peace Basketball Tournament where members put aside their volatile differences to play games with each other. They also sat down with Sawyer to talk about finding solutions to the madness.
The program also highlighted the abject fear of children who are held hostage within their homes because parents are terrified to let them out to play. Many have lost their lives that way. A 7-year-old was shot to death two months ago while selling candy.
What is behind this staggering gun violence, and what is behind a nation, including our political leaders, turning a blind eye to the growing problem?
Chicago police superintendent Gary F. McCarthy told CNN he was disappointed in the death toll but that law enforcement alone couldn’t solve the problem. He said they cannot solve the gang problem, the poverty problem, the education problem or the parenting problem without much broader cooperation.
So who can get a handle on the violence if the Chicago police department—the second largest in the US, behind New York City’s, with a reported 12,244 police officers and 1,925 other employees—says it cannot?
Maybe it takes the collective: parenting, legislative, law enforcement, improvements in education, social programs, job training, as well as gun control. Our politicians need to act like they care about all citizens, regardless of their geographic area or socioeconomic background. Same goes for our police force. Our education system needs to educate and adequately prepare our youth for a demanding and developing world, not simply warehouse warm bodies or act as a pipeline to prison.
Parents, we need to do our part by being proactive. Too many times we point a finger at where we say the problems lay and forget to look in the mirror. During a special on the city, I saw how many children were outside wandering the streets at night. Parents, we need to take responsibility for our children—impose and enforce rules, instill discipline. I’m not saying all of it is on us, but we need to carry our load. It starts with us.