Whether it’s Newark, Detroit, parts of Chicago, South-Central Los
Angeles, Camden, N.J. — take your pick — we’ve looked the other way for
decades as the residents of hard-core inner-city neighborhoods
struggled with overwhelming, life-threatening problems and a chronic
shortage of resources, financial and otherwise.
We’re having an
intense national debate over whether to move ahead with nation-building
in Afghanistan and to continue protecting the population in places like
Kabul and Kandahar while all but ignoring the violence that is
consuming the lives of boys and girls in Chicago, America’s
Dozens of boys and girls of school-age and
younger are murdered in Chicago every year. One hundred were killed
there last year, according to the police. The blood of the young is
spattered daily on the stoops, sidewalks and streets of American cities
from coast to coast, and we won’t even take notice unless, for example,
we can engage in the ghoulish delight of watching the murder played
over and over again on video.
A few years back I did a story; can’t find it on the Southtown site now, about a group of ministers from the South Side neighborhood of Englewood who wanted to get terrorism prevention funds from the government, on the grounds that drugs and gangs and guns were killing more people in their community every year than supposed weapons of mass destruction elsewhere. It was a genius move, really; turn the conversation around. Naturally the downtown and national press yawned: How quaint. How silly. How naive.
They knew how the world works, you know. A lot of the disgusted commentary that comes from pundits who treat everything like a joke has this tone, like, “Oh, you silly idealists, you don’t understand.” They knew the only shot they had at getting their problems made a priority was to make the conversation what the powerful wanted to hear. It’s because idealists know how the world works that they know what can be fixed and how to fix it. It’s not a willful disregard of the facts, it’s a cold assessment of them: The only way anybody’s going to care about us is if we have the word “terrorism” attached to our problems. And for that sincere attempt to get something done the only way they could, they got laughed at.
The money never came. No army of nation-builders ever arrived to support those who wanted peace and fight thoe who wanted violence, any more in Englewood than they did in NOLA or Cedar Rapids or anywhere else struck by disaster in the past eight years. The debate continues about how much we should spend building a world half a world away. How much should we spend building a world right here? Our national conversation never comes near the question anymore.