Neighborhoods need awareness of real issues

As summer rolls on in Chicago, there have been a lot of suggestions on what to do to curb the violence that has become a daily part of our lives. Commentators like CNN's Roland Martin have even advocated for the National Guard to be deployed to the more dangerous neighborhoods. He wrote in a piece for The Daily Beast: "In effect, Chicago needs a troop surge like what we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we wanted to make the lives of residents there safer, why not do the same for Americans?"

That's ... ridiculous.

Before we consider rolling troops down Stony Island Avenue or through the Low End, maybe we should address the lack of communication taking place between the people in these neighborhoods and the people in power in Chicago. A lot of the voices in these communities get ignored. There have been countless meetings, initiatives and fish frys with residents suffering from this violence and the people in power. You would think we all might have gained some insight by now. Instead, the conversation usually goes something like this:

"Why is everyone killing everyone?"

"We need money and jobs in this community."

"OK. What's the solution to this violence, though?"

"We just told you. Money and jobs in the community. A lot of this goes away with opportunities to do better in life that we currently aren't being afforded due to ignorance about our plight. Stop lumping everyone into a faceless mass of `gangbangers' and listen to us as human beings."

"WHAT ... IS ... THE ... SOLUTION ... TO ... THE ... PROBLEM?"

"... We give up."

Even worse, when people from these communities do define the specific issues that lead to violence, their opinions are picked apart and dismissed, the response usually being some variation of tired-ass narratives like, "You need to fix your community by pulling yourselves up by your bootstraps, not blaming the white man," or Martin's National Guard "solution."

My family is from the Robert Taylor Homes, the housing project that was demolished in 2007. The environment that molded thousands of black lives -- including my father's -- literally doesn't exist anymore. I've never been there, and I never will. Still, there's a sense of responsibility within me to do right by my people. As black people, I think there needs to be some recognition that situations like this affect us all, no matter how much we might want to distance ourselves from the strife or feel like it isn't our responsibility. That means we all can and should dedicate whatever we can to aiding the problem at hand, and recognize that our community can do more than we think.

The people who die in Chicago's streets aren't looked at as human beings. We've obsessed over the numbers and crunched the stats so much that the baseline reaction now is numbness after hearing that triple the amount of the lives lost in the Boston Marathon bombing were killed over the weekend just four miles from home. We aren't sad. We aren't angry. We just post incredulous "This has got to stop!" messages on Facebook and move along.

The society that can save Chicago is the same one that's out there giving a man $20,000 to fund a damn potato salad on Kickstarter. We have the tools. These neighborhoods need awareness on the real issues  -- - not rhetoric, posturing and lack of empathy. No matter what, though, the solution ain't troops, my guy.

This is an edited excerpt of a conversation on Chicago violence published by Gawker.

Ernest Wilkins is RedEye's music reporter and Chicago's wingman.


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