CHICAGO - As Chicago marked its 500th murder of 2012 on Dec. 31, more than a dozen families of murdered Chicagoans gathered at the Faith Community of St. Sabina on the city's south side, crying out for gun control. Rev. Michael Pfleger, St. Sabina's priest and community activist, whose own 19-year-old foster son was killed in 1998, said "Murder is up," despite the Chicago Police Department's statement that overall crime is down.
Parents wept at they held pictures of their slain children, then set the pictures on chairs ornamented with white crosses. Reportedly, Annette Holt, whose 16-year-old son, Blair, was shot coming home from school on a bus several years ago, said, "Start snitching. Start telling who's killing these kids, who's killing these people . . . It'll be you one day, trust me."
Pfleger commented on the National Rifle Association's proposal to put armed guards in all schools. The Chicago Tribune reported he said, "The NRA has the same response that Adam Lanza did in Connecticut — that the way you solve everything is with a gun . . . You don't solve things with more guns. You solve things with right thinking and right conscience and right actions."
Although the meeting was about the 500-homicides-in-2012 milestone for the city of Chicago and stronger gun control, Sandy Hook was mentioned often. Pfleger said Newtown put a "new focus" on dealing with the issues surrounding gun violence in Chicago, including poor schools and unemployment.
It's unimaginable for those who don't live in a crime-ridden city neighborhood to fathom that the 2012, 500-homicide rate is not the worst one for Chicago. In 1991, it reached an all-time high of 922. In 2011, it was 433, slightly down from 435 in 2010. It then spiked to 506 in 2012, a more than16 percent increase over 2011.
Gun control is not the only issue; unemployment and poor schools are the biggest culprits. Yet lack of jobs and failing schools are not the only factors. Drugs and gang violence are offshoots of joblessness and inadequate education, but there are other societal ills like teen pregnancy, fatherless homes, lack of community involvement, any of which many in the communities prefer not to openly discuss.
As Holt said, "snitching" would certainly help police find criminals, but there is a mistrust of law enforcement officials in African American and Latino communities. Policy brutality and wrongful arrests and convictions are the reasons. Fear also keeps those in the inner city from becoming informants. Neighbors know by word of mouth when someone is murdered; it's obvious when the police are asking for information, as they are often not subtle in their approach.
Those who live in gang-infested areas don't want to be seen talking to the police for fear of retribution--as in death. The police won't be there to protect them when bullets fly through their doors, or they're snatched and slaughtered on the street for "snitching."
I lived eight of the 18 years I've lived in Chicago in a neighborhood that was dominated by the Latin Kings. One week after I moved out of the neighborhood with my 8-year-old son, I returned and was told by a neighbor about a 12-year-old girl who had been shot.
One evening, she and a group of friends were walking down a street my son and I often traversed. She and her friends spotted two groups of gang members, one on the kids' side of the street and the other on the opposite side. The innocent preteens began running for cover.
The dissenting gang members commenced firing shots. The young girl ran as her friends did but was shot in the back by a stray bullet, close to her spine. Miraculously, she fully recovered.
I sobbed for her, her friends, and the suffering they endured, and after crying, I profusely thanked God that my son and I had finally left the danger zone for a better place. There were other violent experiences I endured while living in "hell on earth," and after the one visit where I was informed about the gang incident, I have yet to return. Perhaps one day I can get over the trauma(s) and muster the courage . . . or maybe not.