Mr. President: Break the Silence on Problems Beyond Guns

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It is truly heartbreaking to post article after article chronicling the decimation of an entire generation – my generation – to gun violence. As a blogger in Chicago, I’ve written headlines like “Shirley Chambers Loses Fourth Child to Gun Violence,” “19 Shot Overnight; 13 Wounded in Just 30 Minutes,” and “Hadiya Pendleton, Teen Who Performed At Obama Inauguration, Shot and Killed on South Side.”

Today, at the urging of over 45,000 petitioners, President Obama will finally come home to Chicago and address the city’s gun violence crisis. I urge the President to make his speech a substantive one that speaks to the systemic obstacles that threaten the lives of youth in this city.

When Chicago’s gun crisis is invoked in our nation’s ongoing gun control debate, it’s often without any discussion of the systemic challenges affecting black and brown youth – challenges like unemployment, poverty, education, and mental health – challenges that play a major role in perpetuating violence on the South and West Sides of Chicago.

Yes, we must greatly limit access to guns with comprehensive laws that include an assault weapons ban and nationally-connected background checks.

But what about the lack of employment opportunities and job training programs for young people? What about the disproportionate incarceration of black and brown youth? Why isn’t there greater recognition of the particular kind of trauma young people are burdened with when family members, classmates and neighbors are dying all around them?

No initiative meant to address violence in the black and Latino communities of Chicago will be successful without addressing these challenges.

And this is not a secret. Certainly not to our president, who began his career as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side. When President Obama invokes the prolonged gun violence crisis in Chicago while staying silent on the daily struggle that perpetuates that violence, he is knowingly or unknowingly perpetuating our nation’s willful ignorance of and indifference to that struggle.

I don’t want the president to come to Chicago for a photo-op. The executive branch has access to valuable resources for combating violence, and can help coordinate the work of community groups, city, and state officials to address this crisis.

And as President of the United States, he can use his unparalleled platform to signal to the world that we as a country value the lives of young black and Latino children.

In an interview from the early 1980’s, famed writer James Baldwin said this in regards to overcoming obstacles: “If you can describe it, you can control it. If you can control it, you can get beyond it. But first you have to describe it. And to describe it, you must face it.”

It is time for our nation to face the fact that we are failing black and Latino youth. Lead the way, Mr. President. Break the silence.

Dallas Donnell is the web coordinator for Chicago’s Black Youth Project, an online resource center for all those committed to enriching the lives of black youth.

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