Every weekend brings a disturbing body count. Recently, the Monday morning report from Chicago had 40 shot and an 11 year old girl, who was at a friend's house for a sleepover, killed. The grieving mother begged that there be no retaliation.
Oak Park has seen violence too. Recently, an Oak Park man in his backyard was held at gunpoint for 15 minutes while an accomplice drained his bank account at an ATM. The gunman threatened to shoot the man and his family.
There is a psychic price we pay when we hear about this violence. It keeps us on edge, clouds our brains and makes us less hopeful.
For those who are neighbors of the crime victims, it is something more. And for children in the effected neighborhoods, such as Englewood on the South Side, their sense of security is replaced with fear.
So what can we do? The short answer is I don't know, other than to say that we all need, in the words of Pope Francis, to "go into the favelas," go into the poor neighborhoods and work for positive change.
There is also a political response needed in Illinois. At the policy level, the violence stems from two things: a lack of jobs and a lack of education reform.
As the late Studs Terkel once said, "The key issue is jobs. You can't get away from it: jobs. Having a buck or two in your pocket and feeling like somebody."
While Illinois politicians give lip service to creating jobs, they do little to create an environment conducive to job creation.
I know people want to rail against the 1 percent as well as corporations and our Springfield politicians cheer them. But few grasp that we stink in Illinois when it comes to job creation, which is why our state, with an unemployment rate of 7.1 percent, continues to lag both neighboring states and the national average for the out of work.
But Studs was only half right. Having policies to support job creation is only part of the solution.
The other thing we need is school reform. My teacher friends may cringe when I say this, but our public schools in Chicago that serve students from poorer families, are a disaster of epic proportions, and we are reaping the bitter fruit of that failure in the gun violence in our neighborhoods.
We have pushed too many young people in Chicago and elsewhere out of public schools and into a life of unemployment. We have failed to create an environment of high expectations in school – regardless of a student's home life. (I can hear some teachers say – "give me better students and I will give you better outcomes").
But we don't talk about school reform in Illinois. Instead, we talk about funding teacher pensions. We talk teacher union contracts. We need a discussion about how to empower families so that they can chose from a quality public school, charter school or private school. Many other states are having this discussion and enacting laws every day. In Illinois, it is radio silence.
We have an election for governor coming up, and my main criteria in evaluating the candidates will be which one will create more jobs and which will enact the most far reaching school reforms.
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