by Heidi Unruah, Found at Evangelicals for Social Action site:
A little girl in my son’s first grade class, Desaree, was shot in the head while playing outside. The bullet was intended for two young men who happened to be running by. Thankfully, she is making a recovery, but her family will never be the same.
Some, though, consider this just par for the course After all, three other children here were shot in the same week. And Desaree is only one of 135 children who were shot in our community in this past school year, 20 of them fatally.
I’m not too worried about it.
Because actually, Desaree Sanders lives in the South Side of Chicago, not my hometown of Hutchinson, KS. Yep, I lied to get your attention. It took this report about a child my son’s age to grab my own awareness of this epidemic of violence. Before that, it was just something happening in another city, to other people’s children. The devastation of Chicago families—mostly minority, mostly poor—has largely swept by under our nation’s radar.
While the overall crime rate in the city has declined, Chicago has the highest juvenile homicide rate in the country. The violence in some neighborhoods is so out of hand that some state lawmakers want to call out the National Guard. More black children have been killed in Chicago than Chicago soldiers were killed in Iraq during the bloodiest years of that war. The murders didn’t just start this year: 42 children died in the 2008-2009 school year, 27 the year before that, 31 the year before that. The heartbreak keeps stacking up.
“When I was young, if a child was murdered, it was a big deal. Now, I’m sorry to say, it’s somewhat routine,” said Ester Stroud. Stroud’s 16-year-old son was stabbed to death on the way home from winning a dance contest.
What will it take to shake us out of this ennui? “We didn’t care about drugs until it hit everybody’s community,” remarked Chicago priest and activist Michael Pfleger, who himself lost a foster son to violence. “When it hit the suburbs, when it hit lawmakers’ children, all of a sudden we cared about drugs.”
Jesus said to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We can wait until the violence literally hits our neighborhoods—and retreat ever further into protected enclaves to stave off that day. Or we can claim those who have been traumatized by violence as our neighborhood, our school system, our family. What if this truly had been my son’s first grade classmate? Are his friends any more precious than Desaree?
It takes a poet to say for us all what needs to be said. In a rally at a Chicago church the day after fifteen people were shot in fifteen hours across the city, Maya Angelou cried out: “The children are being murdered. … At some point, we have to stop this madness. We have to stop it! We have to say, ‘Wait a minute. Hello! Hello! Hello! No! No! Stop it!’ “