July 08, 2016 – These are names of people we should not know: Officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brett Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa of Dallas, TX; Philando Castile of St. Paul, MN; and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA: We recognize them only because their lives came to a tragic end through no cause of their own. Before that, 49 members of the LGBT community were massacred at the Pulse in my home town of Orlando. When will the senseless killings end?
This is not a debate over whether “Black Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter.” However, it is a debate over race. Specifically: When are we going to realize that we’re all members of the human race and begin to act like it?
The killing of innocent victims by law enforcement officers is on the rise. The killing of law enforcement officers is also on the rise. This year has seen a 37.5% increase in ambushes of police and a 44% rise in the number of officers killed.
However, we have an even greater problem. Sixty-six people were shot in Chicago over this past 4th of July weekend; one more than last year. Five of those individuals died. In the first half of the year, 2,021 people have been shot and 315 murdered in Chicago alone. During that time, we have lost 4 troops in Afghanistan. In effect, our cities have replaced war zones in terms of the taking of lives.
While conservatives will bristle at the suggestion, we need intelligent gun reform without the fear of stripping away anyone’s fundamental 2nd Amendment rights. However, it is ludicrous to pretend that semi-automatic rifles with high capacity magazines that deliver high-velocity rounds serve a useful purpose in our society. Would this change have saved Alton Sterling or Philando Castile? No. But it would have saved the officers in Dallas and the patrons of the Pulse in Orlando. Why not reduce the killing if we can?
In the cases of Sterling and Castile, we need to admit that our law enforcement agencies must either do a better job of policing themselves or surrender that role to an outside agency. Too many officers are using unnecessary force. They either need to be retrained or removed from the ranks of law enforcement. This is not to demean the job that the vast majority of officers do every single day to make all of our lives safer. However, we cannot pretend that there isn’t a small element within law enforcement that needs to be addressed.
In the case of cities like Chicago, we must confront and resolve a number of problems. While the enforcement of handgun laws is at the top of that list, we also need to address a wide variety of issues that add to the challenge.
Like many other cities in our Nation, Chicago has a considerable drug problem. The trafficking of drugs is rampant in the area and is contributing to the violence. We need to take proactive steps to crack down on the drug trade there to help mitigate the related violence.
Drugs also have another impact. Their prevalence, combined with minimum sentencing requirements, leads to a disproportionate exposure to incarceration for the residents of Chicago’s Southside. In turn, that experience leads to more crime and less opportunities as it creates a closed-loop system that’s bound to fail.
There also is a public education problem in Chicago. Budget cuts have led to the closing of schools and libraries at a time when we should be moving in the opposite direction. Residents of the projects have no way out without an education. They are locked into an unenviable lifestyle for generations to come if they aren’t given the opportunity to secure a quality education.
Correspondingly, job options are limited because of the failed education system. There is no upward mobility because there are no good-paying job opportunities. We need better jobs programs and an education system that produces the type of talent that can attract new investment in the area.
And finally, we must admit that we have racial disparity in this country. We cannot continue to pretend that Blacks, Latinos and other minorities are afforded the same opportunities as the majority; they simply are not. Until we stop pretending that everyone is treated the same and, in fact, begin to treat everyone the same, we will see tension and distrust continue… even within the interaction between law enforcement and the residents of our urban communities.
It’s time to stop talking about the problem and start fixing it. A political speech condemning the actions of murderers does nothing for the victims. We need to address the root cause of the violence and improve the environment that otherwise produces it.
Those are my thoughts. What are yours?
(Please feel free to express you opinion below. My only request is that you do so rationally rather than emotionally and in a civil manner that respects the rights of others to disagree.)