Opportunity is one way to end the cycle of violence

The recent surge in gun violence has cut a swath of fear and despair across Chicago’s communities of color. But at the Chicago Urban League last week, the violence really hit home. One of the five victims of the gruesome Chatham slayings, Donovan Anderson

Alfred is a facilitator of our male involvement programs, which are designed to uplift and encourage African American males to become productive members of society. That Alfred devotes his time to helping Black men find alternatives to street life, yet has suffered such a tremendous and personal loss, is an irony that makes his brother’s death all the more tragic.

To all of the families who have lost loved ones to violence, I offer my sincere condolences and continued prayers. The Chatham murders culminated a week of violence around the city marked by an unprecedented number of shootings and more than a dozen slain, among them Chicago Public Schools students. At this writing, 24 CPS students have died at the hands of violence this year, nearly toppling the shocking number of students killed in all of 2007.

The recent scourge makes me sad, angry and afraid for our futures, particularly as rising gas and food prices, and dwindling job opportunities put the squeeze on already struggling households. People, we have got to do something to stop it, or we could be in for a bloody summer. Every year, it seems, with warmer temperatures comes a spike in violent crimes. But somehow, this year feels different. Dr. Waldo Johnson, associate professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration and director of the school’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, thinks so, too.

“The acts of violence are different from those that may have previously been associated with random acts to people who happen to be hanging out on the street and stuff,” Johnson said. As a result, more urban residents report they are afraid to leave their homes in the morning to go to work, because they might get jumped, robbed, or worse.

Parents are keeping their children inside or being forced to leave their own communities to find a safe place for them to play. Lately, no matter how hard our churches, community leaders, elected officials, mentors and caring youth and adults try to stand up for the good, the gangbangers, robbers and the drug dealers swoop down like the Grim Reaper and turn their efforts into dust. The toll on families is just one of the many ways in which the African American community could potentially pay for the upswing in violence.

Businesses in effected communities could suffer, as well. The day after the Chatham murders, Quentin Love, 35, owner of Quench, a fast-casual, take-out eatery located at 75th Street and Rhodes Avenue, a block from the scene of the murders, arrived there to find yellow police tape strewn outside his place of business all the way up 75th Street. We have to restore order and take back our communities.

But we cannot solve the problem of gun violence without first solving the problem of inequality in our schools and the lack of job opportunities for African American men and women. Limited economic opportunities can turn communities into a breeding ground for violent offenders. Gun violence, therefore, becomes an occupational hazard of working in the only industry hiring in some communities%uFFFD the illegal drug trade.

Violence thrives on poverty and despair. It blossoms when there are no good jobs, no good schools and no good prospects. One study reports that nearly 70 percent of African Americans in Illinois ages 16 to 25 are “disconnected,” meaning they are both out of work and out of school. For individuals and communities in need, the Urban League offers a menu of human capital development programs focused on youth and African American males.

Visit our Web site at www.thechicagourbanleague.org to learn more about them. Our communities have the right to live in peace. After years of declining crime rates in the city, we must let the gunmen know that we will not stand idly by while they take away our comfort, our neighborhoods and those we hold dear.

The cycle of violence must end now, but I am keenly aware that we have to dig deeper to get at the root of the problems that perpetuate the violence. Poor schools and no good job prospects do not equal a promising future.

______ Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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