They're Our Kids: Where Are We Leading Them?

CD 11-11 croppedpicYesterday, another family laid their young child to rest as mourners stood outside of Saint Sabina Church watching the glass encased, black carriage pull up with the small casket inside. The death of Tyshawn Lee has sparked an onslaught of concern from the community regarding the never-ending cycle of violence on the streets of Chicago.

Monday afternoon, November 2nd, the life of the 9-year old boy was taken, execution style, right beside his grandmother’s home in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. At the time, it was reported as another senseless act of murder, with heartless gang bangers taking a young life; but the story has developed into something much more ominous, much more evil. According to Chicago Police Superintendent, Garry McCarthy, Tyshawn’s father, Pierre Stokes, is alleged to have been embroiled in a gang feud with a rival family for a while. The result of this madness, is the lifeless little body of an innocent little black boy.

This same gruesome scenario continues to unfold over and over, like a scene from the movie, “Groundhog Day”, but in each case, the victim is different. The victims are young and the bullets are real. Parents often clutch their chests once they hear the tragic news of their child’s senseless murder. Parents not too much older than their children, still finding their way in life.

The tragedy of these homicides are ignited by groups of cliqued factions of what were larger organized gangs of the past. Growing up in Chicago, whether you resided on the West Side, South Side or parts of the North Side—it was understood which gang organizations had claim to the area. There was an unspoken code of ethics—civilians that included seniors and children were off limits. Although, many innocent lives were still taken between the crossfire of gang warfare, people were conscious of the rules of engagement. This new generation of gun-totting, block-trotting, half-dazed gang bangers have no awareness of codes.

Founder of United In Peace, Wallace ‘Gator’ Bradley said, “The individuals that are engaged in killing the children are individuals who are in violation of that code. I want to make that straight and clear because it seems like the media is trying to give the perception like the African-American community is so insensitive,” he said. “We’re not standing back quietly and I’m tired of hearing that because this is not true. That is one of the reasons why Congressman Bobby Rush went to meet with Larry Hoover and Jeff Fort. To get their concerns and also to put their concerns out there as a part of the equation of the total solution – everyone has to play a part.”

J-Quantae Riles
J-Quantae Riles fatally shot while walking from the store with a group of friends in the Englewood neighborhood.

As community residents drive through local streets with their windows up and doors locked, many young men are still hanging on building stoops in groups. Some of them are often congregating in the middle of the block to avoid the suspicion of holding down their corner. Always begging the question–’Where are the parents?’. Surely, there had to be a mother and father in order to birth the children who have grown up to walk our streets at night and mostly after curfew. Both, young Black females and males feeling the freedom of hanging out and cussing under the windows of many neighborhood residents too scared to chastise them for fear of retaliation.

The Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center is currently home to approximately 250-300 young inmates. Some are repeat offenders for minor crimes but others are awaiting trial with the possibility of being prosecuted as an adult. There is a cycle of juvenile arrests according to the Chicago Youth Justice Data Project report, the total number of juvenile arrests for 17 and under, in 2013,was 21,496 and it decreased by over 17 percent, in 2014, with 17,783 arrests. While Blacks represent 37 percent of the 0-17 youth population, they accounted for over 79 percent of juvenile arrests in Chicago in 2013 and 2014.

Cook County State’s Attorney candidate, Kim Foxx feels the current criminal justice system can make it difficult for youth with economic disparities. She calls it the ‘school to prison’ pipeline. “We arrest more kids in low-income neighborhoods from the schoolhouse for fighting which is a felony. When I was coming up, if a fight broke out—you didn’t call the cops. Now, we have such low expectations for our students so we pick up the phone to have the police handcuff them, fingerprint and mugshot them. This is because you don’t see the value in that child,” Foxx said. “What does this do for the psyche? We’re setting up paths of failure for our kids because we don’t feel they are worth the investment.”

Foxx said that “the lack of expectations that we put on our children can result into accountability for their actions. The pressure on teachers and school faculty to fill in where parents should, is taxing on them, and can lead to low academic performance without the help of a solid support system.”

Philip Jackson, Executive Director of the Black Star Project has suggested the “Million Fathers Clubs” as a follow-up to his annual “Million Fathers March”. This week he sent out an email sharing his thoughts on the recent murders of Tyshawn Lee (9), Kaylyn Pryor (20) and J-Quantae Riles (14), all died on the streets of Chicago. “I am a 65 year-old Black man, still afraid for my life in America, and afraid not to be afraid in America. My courage and confidence to do the things to save our people are low,” Jackson wrote. “I have been taught, by American schools and American society, to be afraid of speaking up for and saving Black people. I have no right to be afraid with death looming so near!!! But I am. I have been taught well!”

There are organizations and volunteer groups of men and women all over the city that are working diligently to address this problem. Organizations such as Blue 1647, The Black United Fund of Illinois (BUFI), Global Girls, Rainbow PUSH, BUILD, Kids Off the Block are among many solid programs in the Black community.

Organizations both new and established in the Black community are concerned about this problem and are speaking out about it. Elders are passing on who have been a constant voice in the Civil Rights. With the recent death of former Congressman Augusta ‘Gus’ Savage, a ‘game changer’ in politics and one of the most highly regarded media figures—our gentle giants are leaving big shoes to fill.

Aspiring Model Kaylyn Pryor
Aspiring Model Kaylyn Pryor gunned down at a bus stop during a drive by in the Englewood neighborhood.

A familiar figure of change and community activism, Congressman Bobby L. Rush has witnessed variations of political and social outcry within the Black community. The heighten increase of violence has left him no other choice but to seek out the involvement of two of the most influential figures in Chicago gang history. He recently traveled to visit Larry Hoover, co-founder of the Gangster Disciples and Jeff Fort, founder of the Black P-Stone Nation at the maximum security prison, AD- MAX, located in Florence, Colorado. Congressman Rush said, “both men are now elders and can influence a positive outcome to the problems that plague the streets of Chicago.”

Rush said when talking with both Hoover and Fort, “They have committed that their voices will be heard along with other voices out here. The want to bring an end to this murder and mayhem that is overtaking our communities,” he said. “Within their limitations, they now hold a calmness or peace in our neighborhood and I find them to be very wise in their commitment to end this violence.”

According to DNA Chicago, just recently, the mother of Tyshawn Lee was criticized for allegedly using monies donated to a GoFundMe account set up to assist the family with funeral and burial expenses for her son to purchase a car. The young lady quickly took to her Instagram page, angrily going off about the dangers she faces utilizing public transportation and that her son would’ve wanted her to make such a purchase for her safety. The posts have been deleted and her Facebook account has been deactivated.

Karla Lee pictured with her son, Tyshawn Lee.
26-year old Karla Lee pictured with her son, Tyshawn Lee who was gunned down on November 2 on his way to play basketball.

Some donors were upset while others empathized with her situation. Unfortunately, critics attributed such behavior to the mother’s naivety and just making the wrong choices at the wrong time. This is an example of how perceived priorities have shifted somewhere between today’s generation and previous ones.

When a person dies at the hand of gun violence, human instinct is to cringe and ask the question, ‘When will it end?’. When a child’s life is taken all too soon, it strikes a different emotional chord than that of an adult. The cameras come into the neighborhoods as ministers, public officials and the mayor gather around a podium for the 5pm news soundbite. However, after the press conference ends, the cameras breakdown, the reporters disperse and the public officials return back to their homes; the community in the spotlight still suffers.

Many Black parents are only children themselves. The Black community is living out the consequences of a generation’s long cycle of low expectations in education, lack of adequate information and practice in family planning, lack of parenting skills, and an extreme lack of economic development in our communities. And, it’s killing the children.

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