The Barriers Between Us

photo by Carlos Javier Ortiz

photo by Carlos Javier Ortiz

When we talk about crime, we often judge.

We say:

Those people are bad. Those people can’t be saved. Those people…..

I was talking with a veteran criminal justice professional at her South Side office recently and I was remarking how some South Side neighbors have banded together to keep the gangbangers out of their parks. That seemed like a good idea to me.

She stopped me.

Why, she asked? Why keep them out? It’s better to make them part of the community than it is to exlude them.

But aren’t there some people who just won’t fit in?

No. Not really. There are only a few who are unredeemable, she said.

And I began wondering what if we did not make judgements, not say who is good or bad. But instead talk about who is in trouble and who needs help. Wouldn’t that make a difference when we talk about saving lives and communities? Wouldn’t ease the emotional toil?

So, too, don’t we need to avoid judgements about morality when we broadly talk about crime or poverty or when we point fingers at one community?

And doesn’t that mean we need to understand more about ourselves and others before we even talk.

Back in April the Mayor was talking about crime and the need for communities to speak up about crime when they can help police. He ended his remarks, saying this about  neighborhoods,”They have to live by a morale code.”

Those words set off a fire storm in communities ravaged by crime and the fear of it and struggling mightily to do their best.

And the best response is this from Dawn Turner Price in the Trib.

Please read it. She was moved by the random killing a young girl. Her most powerful point is questioning the values that allowed black communities to suffer so greatly for some many years.

“I think about this man every time Chicago has a particularly violent weekend and the question of values emerges. Where are the shooters’ values? Where are their parents’ values? Why hasn’t the community stepped up?

“It’s about,” as Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said, “whether you have values.”

“It follows that if these young men had values, girls like 11-year-old Shamiya Adams wouldn’t have to worry about being gunned down at a slumber party while making s’mores.

“This is a powerful line of reasoning.

photo by Carlos Javier OrtizBut here’s my question: Can we responsibly talk about the values of others without considering how we tolerate conditions that stunt their prospects?

“The radical inequalities. The structures of exclusion. The disinvestment and isolation. The apartheid justice under which the Constitution means one thing in a “good” neighborhood and something very different in a troubled one.


“The mayhem and the violence are the aftereffects,” the Rev. Robin Hood, a longtime anti-violence activist, told me. “They are the residue.”

“Young men shooting at one another for real or imagined offenses is stupid and horrible. But it’s not senseless. It comes out of basic human patterns. If your parents, neighbors and the institutions of the society don’t protect you, then you find a group of folks who will. And you adhere to their value system — in too many cases it’s a code of the streets.

“What is senseless is that we think we can address the problem without honestly acknowledging some fundamental truths.

“You can’t talk about the underground economy that flourishes in these communities and its attendant violence without talking about the gross disinvestment and the lack of jobs.

“You can’t talk about black kids not valuing education without talking about subpar schools, and the reality that many kids simply don’t believe the long-term benefits of a good education will help them with their right-now needs, worries and fears.

“You can’t talk about residents in rough neighborhoods not trusting the police without talking about the long-lasting effects of the city’s failure to hold accountable rogue officers who prey on the community.

“You can’t talk about absentee fathers without factoring in mass incarceration. With 2.2 million people in the penal system — four times the number in the early 1970s — the United States has the world’s largest prison population.”

So what do you say?

Talk to me – digame, 312 369 6400



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