The Children Are Dying

Man Found Dead in Crashed Van on I-57; Among 14 People Shot In Chicago

        Police: 3 Killed, 8 Wounded In Monday Shootings Across Chicago

Headlines from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times over the last twenty-four hours. I was in Chicago last weekend on a parish visitation for confirmation. Of course, I saw no shootings, heard no gunfire. Because this particular parish was north and west of the city, although we have plenty on the south and west sides of town where these incidents are most likely to occur.

Most likely indeed. Why? Because of decades and generations of segregation, poverty, unequal education and a lack of job opportunities which,in our day, has led to increasing amounts of drug abuse, gang membership, and an ocean of guns which show no signs of decreasing. The situation is really very little different from when I was in seminary in the late 60s/early 70s and did field work in a Black congregation on the West side and Northwest side parish just getting into Hispanic ministry.

The main difference today is the level of violence because of easy access to high powered weaponry. The virulent racism and rampant disregard for educational and economic equality remains the same. All these years later.

The tragedy and complexity of the situation was highlighted for me because one of the assisting priests in the congregation I visited is also a Chicago policeman. He said that the weekend was among the saddest day of his life, not because of these senseless killings (which he sees all the time and which he seemed almost immune to feeling), but because of a decision by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel to disband the current police oversight board and replace it with “all-civilian” membership.

This priest/officer interpreted this as one more slap in the face of a police force which has been coming under increased scrutiny and criticism in recent years because of incidents of over-reach and even brutality. “Out of the 12,000 officers in Chicago,” my colleague said, “there are maybe 250 who should never have put on a badge. The rest of us are your family members, neighbors, and friends who are working as hard as we know how to keep you safe and be fair to everyone.”

I couldn’t help remarking that 250 “bad apples” can kill a lot of people. But I understood what he was saying. Undoubtedly most members of the Chicago PD are brave and honest people trying to do a dirty job with what feels like little support from the government, from the media, and from the people they serve. Until all of us are willing to make the kind of sacrifices necessary to begin to address the systemic racism and chronic poverty which infect this city, these officers will continue to fight an uphill battle to keep the peace in these neighborhoods.

Please remember such things as you cast your votes in local, state, and federal elections over these next months.

The children are dying.

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