Given what happened in Chicago over the weekend, a continuation of rampant violence that barely makes the news anymore, I wanted to repost this piece I wrote a few months ago. Unfortunately, it’s still relevant.
The Middle East – Sunnis and Shiites murdering each other. For territory, for power, over ideology. Death tolls rise along with the level of hopelessness. Every day, violence is a fact of life to which the citizens of places like Baghdad and Aleppo have become desensitized. There is no place too sacred for bloodshed. No mosque, no school, no hospital. In addition to sectarian violence, children have grown up watching their cities and villages bombed by foreign drones, their families and neighbors killed or taken away by foreign soldiers. Flames of hate are fanned by radical clerics. An insidious “us vs. them” mentality seeps into the soul of the people.
The fear and distrust flow both ways, feeding off each other. Too many soldiers have watched their comrades fall to IEDs and sniper fire. Too many service members have witnessed the carnage of suicide bombings.
America – Drug pushers and gang members murdering each other. For territory, for power, for street cred. Death tolls rise along with the level of hopelessness. Every day, violence is a fact of life to which the citizens of places like Chicago and Oakland have become desensitized. There is no place too sacred for drive-by shootings. No church, no park, no school bus stop. In addition to gang violence and inner city drug wars, children have grown up having their doors kicked in by narcotics officers, seeing their neighbors slammed on car hoods, electrocuted by tasers, sometimes murdered by police, their fathers and brothers taken away in cop cars, often never to return. Flames of hate are fanned by ratings-driven news channels, through bullhorns of activists, and the microphones of rap stars.
The fear and distrust flow both ways, feeding off each other. Too many cops have seen their comrades murdered in the line of duty, in shootouts and chases, and more recently in cold blood, executed over their uniforms.
There is no simple fix to this complex and generational problem. A congressional hearing won’t solve it. Nor will any new law. The American way of throwing truckloads of tax dollars at the situation won’t make it go away either. But there is a solution: Love.
Don’t roll your eyes. Naïve and idyllic as it sounds, if every pastor, teacher, mentor, and concerned citizen formed a government-backed coalition, a movement to ensure that every inner city kid in America is loved, nurtured, and taught respect for human life, 20 years from now, we would see a major downscale in violence, hate, and intolerance.
This is no hippy-liberal, peace-and-love idea. It takes balls to go into high-crime areas and mentor children. Volunteers could be robbed, shot, raped, murdered. But we have missionaries and aid workers traveling to the Middle East every day. Kayla Mueller, a young American Doctors Without Borders worker in Syria who was kidnapped and eventually killed by ISIS, said: “For as long as I live, I will not allow this suffering to be normal…” Her same heroic philosophy needs to be aimed at America’s inner cities.
“Great idea, Malcolm. So why don’t you do it?”
Because I’m in prison. But from this side of the razor wire, things are crystal clear. My dormitory is full of 19-year-old kids with life sentences. Unraised, uneducated, unloved. Many of them left children behind who will grow up the same way. These are young men who laugh at domestic terror attacks and applaud when police are gunned down. As cold-blooded and evil as this sounds, it’s a problem that will continue to grow exponentially if not confronted at its roots. Not with force and intolerance, but with love and compassion.
In my latest novel, On the Shoulders of Giants, a story that deals largely with race, there are three sections titled “The Other America.” But the truth is, there is no “other America.” There’s only one America. No them, only us. It’s time to start investing in ALL of our children.