On this 40th anniversary of the summer riots, it's hard not to think back on that time without also thinking how much worse things have become since then. Despite programs aimed at desegregation, fair employment practices, improved schooling; despite the War on Poverty and a fairly long period of nationwide economic prosperity, our quality of life stinks. I say "our" not because mine is objectively bad in any way, but because I find I can't feel good about my good fortune without also feeling bad about the generations that have succeeded the kids from South Chicago whom I got to know 40 years ago. Not their kids, grand-kids, great-grand-kids, specifically, but (a) the totally alienated kids whom -- as killers and victims -- we read about in the papers and (b) those who are caught up in this violence without being themselves totally alienated. I say our quality of life stinks not because we don't have lots of good things. We do have lots of good things. But rather because I perceive we've lost a sense of life's meaning. We're more callous than I remember us being in the old days. There's not so much confidence in the future and in our ability to shape it.
I won't prolong this meditation. But do take a look at the articles in the following links. The first describes shootings in an apartment complex in northeast Washington DC. The victims -- some say -- just happened to be present when the kids with the guns felt like shooting someone.
'Brazen' NE Shootings Stun District Officials, More Police Were Out; 2 of 7 Victims Still Hospitalized, by Mary Beth Sheridan and Donna St. George
Excepts: One or two gunmen on foot had opened fire on a group of chatting adults and game-playing children outside the four-story building, part of the sprawling Edgewood Terrace complex. Four adults and three children were hit, including Harris's youngest, Jemila. ... When the gunmen didn't see their intended victims, [one witness] said, they began "just shooting everywhere." ... The Edgewood shootings occurred a day after law enforcement officers helped throw a peaceful community event -- a block party -- at the site as part of the surge in police presence.Here is a link to an opinion piece that riffs on this incident. Note the quote from Joyce Ladner about kids who have nothing to live for, no fear of death, absence of any empathy; by my standards, this is anomie personified.
At the Root of the Violence, by Colbert I. King
Excerpts: Mayor Adrian Fenty, who while campaigning touted the wondrousness of "community policing" as a curative to crime, has been forced to acknowledge reality. After last Saturday night's shootings, which occurred smack in the middle of Police Chief Cathy Lanier's "All Hands on Deck" summer crime-fighting program, Fenty said that "there's no way in the world we're going to eliminate all crime, especially when people are this brazen."The author knows there's no easy solution to this problem. He says,
On his way out in 1992, dispirited D.C. Police Chief Isaac Fulwood warned that "it has become abundantly clear law enforcement alone could not cure the scourge of drugs and violence."
Now hear the words spoken 15 years ago by author Joyce Ladner, a former Howard University interim president, a sociologist and a former member of the D.C. financial control board. She could have been speaking today.
Ladner talked with The Post's Ruben Castenada about a generation of youths raised in economic and emotional deprivation who were becoming adults and having their own children. These young people, she said, are not equipped to live according to the rules that most people abide by, much less to teach those parameters to their children.
Referring to youths growing up alienated in unstable families, Ladner said that "many of these kids don't value their own lives. How can you kill without feeling? Often, that comes from not having made the proper attachments in early life. Then you're left with a lack of empathy, of feeling for the value of the lives of other human beings because you don't value your own life."
This city is no longer horrified. We have become, it seems, inured to violence. We've grown accustomed to accepting what should be unacceptable.Do you suppose it means anything that back in '67 the war in Vietnam was on everyones' minds as the war in Iraq is today? That it seems now impossible to recapture the optimism of the period following World War II when it seemed like the nation's and the world's problems -- given time, resources, good will, intelligent policies -- could be diminished, in some instances maybe actually solved?
We act as if crime is a problem for the police. It's not; it's ours. And it's the kind problem that can't be arrested, wished or prayed away.
Police, Ladner said, can do only so much. "Police can't raise your children."
Neither can the school system.
And so, we arrive once again at a familiar place and on the same soapbox.
It's easy to say and hard to do but must be tried if we want future D.C. youths instilled with values, self-discipline and respect for themselves and others: The broad spectrum of the community must come together and fix what's badly broken in our city -- the family.
There's an OpEd piece in today's WaPo by the head of the trauma unit at the U of Penn Hospital in Philadelphia. It's an interesting first-person narrative of the bloody chaos in city emergency rooms. He says: "More young men are killed each day on the streets of America than on the worst days of carnage and loss in Iraq. There is a war at home raging every day, filling our trauma centers with so many wounded children that it sometimes makes Baghdad seem like a quiet city in Iowa." Here's the link: The War in West Philadelphia, by John P. Pryor