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Bob Herbert on Urban Violence in the US

I really don't know what to say about the below. I don't understand why or how a given human community, where all children are born with the same promise, turns into a nightmare of social entropy. And that is exactly what I see in the newspapers in my new home of the Twin Cites -- the "brown" kids die in the streets, while the white kids play sports and perform music, and only occasionally die by rolling over a 6,000 lb. SUV.

It is all about race and class, of course. War in Iraq or not, by all appearances, white America has unlimited institutional resources, and whatever
noblesse oblige we once had is a sentimental bygone memory in the era of George Bush and "No Child Left Behind."

I'm of course a lefty secular-humanist, but the way I was raised, and the way I live, is 100% Northern European Midwestern Stolidity-Staidness. I have a Dutch name, from ancestors that preceded the English in present-day Brooklyn, NY. My mother is German and Irish Catholic. My father is Swedish Lutheran, mostly.

And the line goes all the way back, and it's easy to imagine an ancestor of mine working as a blacksmith for 12 hours a day, six days a week, feeding his family, attending services on Sunday, and living life with dignity.

I don't know how it connects, but as for the below, how things like that happen in the US are as foreign and shocking to me as hearing of genocide in Darfur.


Poor Kids Living in a War Zone

By BOB HERBERT
Chicago

The colorful playground outside Frederick Funston Elementary School
has swings and sliding boards and a heartbreaking makeshift memorial
for the 13-year-old girl who was shot to death in the playground a few
weeks ago.

"It's difficult out here," said a woman who sat on a bench, watching
her two small boys scampering around the playground.

What she meant was that there was nothing particularly unusual about
schoolchildren getting blown away in Chicago's black and Latino
neighborhoods. Since September, when the last school year started,
dozens of this city's public school students have been murdered, most
of them shot to death. As of last week, the toll of public
schoolchildren slain in Chicago since the opening of the school year
had reached 34, including two killed since the schools closed for
summer vacation.

"That's more than a kid every two weeks," said Arne Duncan, the chief
executive of the city's school system. "Think about that."

The girl killed in the playground was Schanna Gayden, who, according
to the police, was shot in the head by a gang member who was aiming at
someone else. Blair Holt, a high school junior, was shot to death on a
city bus. Another teenager was killed as he walked home from a
library.

Lazarus Jones, a 13-year-old computer-lover who was looking forward to
beginning high school in the fall, was jumped by several members of a
gang and beaten to death. Twelve-year-old Laura Joslin was stabbed to
death, police said, by an 18-year-old girl on Thanksgiving Day. Victor
Casillas, 15, was killed in a drive-by shooting.

And so on.

This should be a major national story, of course, and it would be if
the slain children had come from more privileged backgrounds. But
these are the kids that most of America cares nothing about — black,
Latin and poor.

CNN's Anderson Cooper covered the story. He said of the kids,
poignantly: "Their names should be known. Their lives should be
honored. Their deaths should be remembered."

But that was an exception. Outside of Chicago, very little reporting
has been done on this horrifying wave of murders. The truth, of
course, is that Chicago is not alone. It may be jolting, even in our
blood-drenched society, to have so many students from one school
system killed over the course of a single school year. But most people
know (and take for granted) that boys and girls growing up in
America's inner cities often have to deal with conditions that can
fairly be compared to combat.

"There's just a tremendous amount of passivity and a lack of public
outrage," said Mr. Duncan, a fierce champion of efforts to control the
relentless arming of Americans — young and old, rich and poor — with
firearms.

"No one even talks about all the kids who are shot but not killed," he
said. He mentioned a 7-year-old who was shot at a family barbecue.
"The amount of trauma these kids and their families are living with is
just staggering," he said.

We know at least some of the things that need to be done about the
slaughter of poor children in the U.S.

Mr. Duncan is surely right when he says that the easy availability of
guns is roughly the equivalent of spraying gasoline on an already
fiery situation. The effect of the guns is to make a bad situation
much, much worse.

Beyond the guns, apart from the horrifying fact that they might meet
up with a bullet at any time, poor youngsters are suffering from a
ruthless pattern of abuse and neglect that has lasted for many years.

Too few have been afforded the benefits of a quality education. Too
many are left to their own devices because of an absence of
after-school programs and other kinds of activities — clubs, sports,
art and music programs, summer camps — that can enrich the lives of
children and shield them from harm.

Summer jobs programs have been decimated by the federal government.

And in far too many cases, the very people who should be caring for
these youngsters the most, their parents, have walked away from their
most fundamental responsibilities. Fathers, especially, have abandoned
their young in droves.

Life is not fair. Society will not make these vulnerable youngsters
whole. We all have a responsibility, but the kids desperately need
those closest to them to step up, especially the ones who gave them
life.
No profanes - sacred
 
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