Twenty years ago, the guidance counselor at my school was in middle school. His house stood on a corner lot in a gang ridden, Hispanic neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. He told me he would be doing his homework in his bedroom and hear shooting outside. Instead of getting down low, he would go to the window to see the action. He'd see the shooter, the runner, and the get away car. Then he would go back to doing his homework.
Last week, exactly one block away from the counselor's childhood home, another shooting occurred. This time our student's older brother was killed. He was shot in the head. He was 20 years old.
That young man was either in the womb or a newborn during the time the guidance counselor watched gang shoot-outs from his window. Same couple of city blocks, same neighborhood. The cycle of violence passed down to the next generation. Nothing has changed but the dates on the calendar.
So now my 8th grade student is left to grieve. Will he join the gang and retaliate? Or will this tragic episode make him all the more repulsed by gangs? Only time will tell.
The bigger question is why hasn't this gang activity been stopped by now? Are there babies in the womb right now destined to join a gang and be murdered (or be a murderer) by their 21st birthday? Is this the life that their world will offer them? Is violent death by age 21 an acceptable American norm?
We want jobs. We want to fix the economy. We want to end the war in Afghanistan. But there is no major demand to end the local civil wars that have played out for decades in the urban centers of America. These killings get a blurb in the newspaper, if any press at all. Where is the outrage? When a gang kidnaps the mind of a teenager, not much is done about it. The family of the child weeps, but the general public just shakes its head. Not my kid, not my neighborhood, not my problem.
But it's all of our problem. The police, with the approval of the parents, need to send Amber alerts when a child is known to have joined a gang. The community needs to be made aware so that we can apply as much pressure as possible to break the chain of violence and get a kid back on track. Maybe someone would sign up to be his mentor. Maybe someone else will offer him tutoring or a part-time job.
If we don't, the corner shoot-outs just beyond the guidance counselor's old bedroom window will continue another 20 years. And state prisons and local funeral homes will continue to welcome young, talented, lost teenage boys.