Violence Rises In Chicago: A Social Worker’s Plea

On Aug. 29, 2013, as school began last week for CPS students, there was a shooting a block from Bass Elementary School on Chicago’s south side in Englewood.  According to reports, “Students were on the playground when the shooting occurred and were immediately ushered inside the school, but no kids were harmed… A gunman ran through the playlot at Bass Grammar School during recess. He was waving a weapon before the gunfire broke out.” In addition, the irony of it all is it occurred just a few blocks away from where Rep. Bobby Rush and Sen. Mark Kirk were meeting last Thursday to discuss gang violence in the area.  On Aug. 10, 2013, a double shooting that killed one man took place along a CPS Safe Passage route on the South Side.

I wonder, as I am sure many others will too, how safe it will be for children to go to school. If shootings are occurring in areas that are supposed to be “Safe Passage” zones, what chance do the children of these communities really have to make it to and from school safely?

It is apparent that the criminals doing the shooting have no regard or respect for the fact that these streets are designated as “zones” that should be safe for children to walk to and from school in.  It is disheartening that these children are not only not safe living in homes in these neighborhoods, but are not safe traveling back and forth to school.  It is sad that these children cannot obtain an education in a location or building where they should feel safe.  Despite claims that crime in Chicago is lower than previous years, the children of this city are definitely not reaping the rewards of this so-called decrease in crime.

From a social work stand point, it is clear that cuts in social services was what this city most certainly could not afford.  I spent almost 2 years working in schools in Englewood and was shocked to find the number of children I worked with that experience gun violence either directly or indirectly, meaning they had a personal experience with gun violence and/or they lived where they often heard shootings on almost a daily basis.  To expect children such as these to be successful in academics when their safety is their main concern is almost unrealistic.  Aside from the disparities that exist in the education of African-American children and/or children living in poor socio-economic neighborhoods, they face a more pressing issue; that of day-to-day survival.

How, as social workers, can we assure our students, that they will survive an existence that is riddle with gun violence? How can we assure them, that their schools are one of the safest places they can be?  I, myself, do not want to make promises that are beyond my control.  These are the challenges we face when working with children in these communities.

So what is the solution? I don’t believe it is as complex as some might think or say. For one, as a community, we need to return to what I and many others refer to as a “village” mentality.  The old African saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” is as true today as it was in my generation.  When I was a child, although, we did not have violence in our communities to worry about, every neighbor was responsible for each other’s child or children.  No matter if that child, had one, both, or no parents in the home, everyone looked out for each other.  Back then, the most we had to worry about was property crimes, but, whenever a neighbor saw something suspicious, they called the police.  Not today, in inner city communities calling the police could label you as a snitch or even worse, get you harmed or even killed.  Although it is understandable that people would fear for their safety, I would like to think that if everyone stood in unity and accessed resources such as the police, which are already in place, it might send a message that they will not be intimidated by the criminals wreaking havoc in their communities.  The program “Safe Passage” is a start as well.  It utilizes people that are residents in these communities to watch over the children going back and forth to school.  My only concern would be not only ensuring that the children in these “zones” are safe, but the people working in this program are safe as well.

Second, instead of spending exuberant amounts of money (i.e. $800 million project meant to improve rental car service at O’Hare International Airport) on things that will not improve the quality of life of our children in this city why not invest that money in the education of the children of these communities as well as?  Investing it in more social service programs, putting more police on the streets, and providing job opportunities.

Finally, I think we all have to do more than just get mad or sad about what is going on in these communities.  The “village” mentality cannot just apply to those living in the village anymore, we can no longer afford to leave them alone to fight this fight.  It is all of our responsibility to advocate for one another, especially the children affected on a daily basis by gun violence.  So, “What can I do?” you ask?  Volunteer, mentor, donate, contact your government representatives- but don’t just sit there and do nothing.  For this generation of children are to be our future leaders, what more worthy cause to invest in than this?

By: Lena Moore, LSW
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