BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND
It’s an irrational thought but I’m starting to think this every morning when I read or view the news and there is yet another poor child who has become the collateral damage to someone’s stupid gang life or other evil actions. These stories get a few seconds on the news and a few column inches in the newspaper, but nothing seems to change. Kids keep getting shot or otherwise injured. The police keep vowing to catch the perpetrators. The branches of government blame each other for lax sentencing guidelines, weak crime prevention measures, you name it. Yet the violence continues, and the cycle resumes. I know that many people care, but I increasingly feel that people are becoming anesthetized to the steady violence.
All the sad Chicagoland “death of children” stories dig at me like a half-pounded nail in my back, but the deaths of children who were in the same age range as my son hit me the hardest. The seven-year-old girl (Jaslyn Adams) who was killed in the drive-thru while getting food with her dad; the five-year-old boy (Jaden Donald), who was shot in the back while playing in a park; the girl who was playing with her toys in her room and was hit by an errant bullet (several recent stories) amidst another countless gang war that no will remember in a month; the four-year-old boy (Mychal Moultry Jr.) from Alabama who was shot while he was getting his hair braided during a visit to Chicago; and the slow motion torture and eventual murder of poor five-year-old A.J. Freund. (The Illinois Department of Children & Family Services failed A.J. and others, but there seems to be little accountability. Who is the next A.J. Freund with a current case file for DCFS?)
The latest story that’s made my blood boil—the killing of children has not become normalized for me—was this week’s murder of eight-year-old Demetrius Stevenson of Markham, Illinois (just 15 minutes from my childhood home). Such a handsome young man with his entire life ahead of him. This poor child went outside to hang with his 18-year-old brother and never made it back into his home due to gang violence.
As of September 7, 2021, there have been more than 3,100 shooting victims in Chicago. “That’s up 9 percent from the 2,849 shooting victims this time last year, and 69 percent above the 1,838 victims this time in 2019,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “At least 16 children 15 and younger—11 boys and five girls—have been shot and killed.”
This is not just a problem in Chicagoland. Murder rates of children have been rising throughout the country for years. Stringing quotes together is a cardinal sin for writers and editors, but here are two more that will blow your mind. “Every year, 7,957 children and teens are shot in the United States. Among those: 1,663 children and teens die from gun violence, 864 are murdered, and 6,294 children and teens survive gunshot injuries,” according to BradyUnited.org. In 2017, the “child and teen gun death rate in the U.S. was more than three times higher than that in Turkey, the country with the next highest rate; 11 times higher than in Israel; 19 times higher than in Switzerland, and 85 times higher than in the United Kingdom,” according to the Children’s Defense Fund. This is not a Democratic or a Republican problem, but an American problem. Some misinformed people like to say Democratic-led cities are more prone to violence, but Republican-led cities such as Tulsa, Oklahoma; Lexington, Kentucky; Fort Worth, Texas; and Fresno, California, have also seen more killings in recent years.
Amidst the partisan bickering about common-ground issues ranging from infrastructure improvements to vaccine and mask usage, amidst the banal social media arguing and posturing, and amidst the real challenges of living our daily lives, our children are being shot or otherwise hurt on a daily basis, and some are being killed. I say “our children” because while they are not our “blood children” in most instances, we should view all these young people as our own.
Some people in Chicago and Chicagoland neighborhoods and towns that are perceived as “safe” tut-tut about crime and say that these things only happen to people in certain kinds of neighborhoods but they don’t realize that violence and the hardening of the human heart to violence and the suffering of others is a moral plague. They fail to understand that violence that is ignored will eventually spread to their neighborhoods and affect their families in some way or another if they don’t start caring and stop judging.
We can do better as human beings….that’s what I think and what a neighbor of Demetrius Stevenson who was interviewed on the news about the murder said when he was asked to sum up his reaction to this tragedy. What he was really saying was yes, we need to hold ourselves to higher standards, but that we also need to hold others to higher standards of behavior and not normalize violence.
We need to hold our fellow citizens, our city, our state, and our country more accountable for the violence and hate that manifests itself on social media and in hateful comments and actions in-person and online, and becomes full fury crazy America in the form of gun and other types of violence.
How do we get there? I really don’t know anymore. First, it’s up to our elected officials and our police leaders to find a solution for this mess that we call America as of late. Because they have chosen to serve the public, and with the perks of a public profile and generous pensions comes personal responsibility. If there was a drinking game for how many times our mayor and police superintendent (and the elected officials of other cities) stood in front of a microphone, decried the violence, and promised to change it, we would all be experiencing a steady, low-grade “drunk.” Second, it’s up to us to push for the America that we want, rather than the one that we’ve come to accept in the news headlines each morning.
I live in a quiet Northwest Side Chicago neighborhood that experiences its occasional crime—sometimes violent—but most nights, it’s a peaceful place only disturbed by the roar of jets as they head toward O’Hare Airport. I often wish that everyone in Chicago could have such “serious” nightly problems as loud, landing planes.
Again, I offer no solutions other than that we hold our elected officials and law enforcement officials more accountable for the mess in Chicago and America. As I wrote the last sentence, I kept hearing the phrase “cop out” in my head, but change should start with our elected and public officials because they have the most power to improve the situation. And then it falls on us regular people. I would love to hear your ideas of how we can make the world a better place and protect our children. Let’s not get political. Let’s come up with some grassroots solutions that we can implement, as well as some policy ideas that we can share with our elected officials and police. Let’s invest in our underserved communities. Let’s organize. Let’s vote in next year’s elections. Run for school board, alderman, or even mayor if you think you have what it takes. And if you choose not to get involved politically, let’s shout to our politicians and police officials that the status quo is the status no. When they come to our neighborhood gatherings to “press the flesh” and hand out hot dogs and ice cream (or sponsor our Little League teams in the case of our politicians), let’s give them more than a handshake (or fist bump in the time of COVID). Let’s give them a piece of our minds regarding the violence and ask them what they are going to do about this problem. And let’s support our elected officials and police officers who do care and want to make Chicagoland and our country a better place–who entered their careers to make a difference in the world.
Demetrius Stevenson should have been able to walk back into his house after playing just like our kids do every day. So should have Jaslyn Adams, Jaden Donald, Mychal Moultry Jr., A.J. Freund, and countless other children. Let’s remember their names and the names of other murdered children as we go about our daily lives and think about the steps that we can take to make Chicagoland and the rest of America safe for our kids.
Copyright (text) Andrew Morkes
ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).
My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.
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