You Can’t Stop the Violence in Ghetto Streets
Without Stopping the Violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Elsewhere
I left Chicago at the end of 2008 for Georgia. But for the last year or more, when I tell people where I’m from the most frequently brought up Chicago factoid is the asinine proposal of a corrupt black preacher-politician to post the National Guard on ghetto street corners in an effort to stem a local epidemic of violence. I won’t mention the politician’s name or provide any links to him, but he’s the same idiot who last year referred to the Chicago Teachers Union as the most dangerous gang in town.
It’s a foolish idea on its face, of course. The National Guard isn’t trained to interact much with civilians, except to shoot up their houses and vehicles, to call in air strikes on their neighborhoods, or to break down their doors and drag them off to be tortured in secret prisons, or kill them on the spot, as they do daily in Iraq and Afghanistan. We suspect the preacher-politician knows this, and that even he doesn’t really want Apache helicopter gunships strafing schoolyards and wedding parties on the south side of Chicago. At the time, he just needed to keep his name in the news. Besides, if the task of misleaders is to mislead, spreading bogus notions about an “epidemic of ghetto violence” being at the root of our problem, and blaming victims all fit neatly into his job description.
The truth that Dr. King told forty-some years go cannot be re-stated too many times—that there is “... a clear, almost facile connection...” between the violence, poverty, joblessness and want on Chicago’s south side and places like it across the nation on the one hand, and the rivers of cash that never stop flowing on the other hand to America’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Colombia, Somalia and our global network of more than a thousand military bases on foreign soil. There was a time when America’s black political leadership never let America forget this connection. For more than a generation, the standard stance among America’s black political class was to demand an end to militarism, empire, and war at the same time they championed vastly expanded funding of education, housing, jobs and equal opportunities at home.
But for the present-day black political class, that time isn’t just over—it never happened. Thanks to the kinds of history written by the likes of Dr. Peniel Joseph, it’s outside their memories, beyond their imaginations. With the ascension of a new generation of business-oriented black politicians, the corporate and military embrace of desegregation at the top levels of their own ranks, with the careers of Colin Powell and Clarence Thomas and Condoleeza Rice, and the elevation of the first Black President, the fight against Jim Crow and its remnants has been decisively severed from the quest for economic justice, and from opposition to war, militarism and empire. The first Black President can be hailed as the ultimate fulfillment of “Dr. King’s Dream” at a 2008 Democratic convention underwritten by corporate sponsors, and with the candidate surrounded by two-dozen mostly black admirals and generals. Our first Black President became the first president of any party or color to keep the Secretary of War, deceptively called the Secretary of Defense, of the previous party, in this case a bloodstained Reagan-era war criminal. And before he was in office 36 hours, Obama broke another color barrier, becoming the first Black president to kill brown civilians and children with remote controlled drones in Afghanistan.
It’s only by erasing and ignoring the connection between trillion-dollar giveaways to Wall Street banksters and unlimited funding for imperial war that a sensible person can pin the cause of an “epidemic of violence” in poor communities to some ethical or moral shortcomings of people who live there—in morally deficient ghetto neighborhoods amid exhortations to residents to “clean themselves up”—first begin to make a kind of sense.
You’ll never hear this kind of opportunist preacher-politician tell his megachurch audience that for $600 or $700 million, a fraction of what the government gave Bank of America a few months ago, all the student loan debt in the country could be redeemed. Similarly this kind of black preacher-politician will never mention that the cost of running the Afghan war for three hours would erase the deficit from one big-city (Chicago or the Bay Area) transit authority along with those of half-a-dozen medium sized cities like Birmingham, Oklahoma City, or Savannah.
This is the kind of black misleader that leads prayer vigils to “stop the violence” on ghetto streets, while adamantly refusing to look the real devils and their details in the eye. Pretending that a “stop the violence” campaign addresses the root causes of violence in poor black communities is an active and pernicious distraction from the real causes of that violence. The well-researched and well-established fact is that crime, mental illness, imprisonment, family instability, disease, maternal and infant mortality all correlate to the level of inequality in any modern human society. The United States is the most unequal society on earth, and its large cities are where the gaps between the very richest and the very poorest, who are disproportionately nonwhite, are greatest.
Before there was an epidemic of ghetto violence, there was an epidemic withdrawal of the manufacturing and other jobs, which drew our grandparents and great grandparents up from the rural south in the first place. There were epidemics of neighborhood school closings; epidemics of free and low-cost medical care cutbacks, and epidemics of privatization of public resources. There is a longstanding epidemic of disproportionate black mass incarceration, combined with widespread legal and social sanctions on convicted felons, which has become perhaps the principal mechanism for locking millions of black Americans into poverty for another generation. These are some of the epidemics that the current crop of black misleaders, like our ghetto preacher-politician build their careers upon ignoring.
It’s time we spent a little more energy ignoring them, their blame-the-victim philosophies, their dead-end politics and their avoidance of the connection between the violence and poverty in our communities and the rivers of cash that keep flowing to Wall Street and to war.
I think that’s what I’ll tell the next person who mentions the asinine National Guard proposal of that preacher politician in Chicago.
Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Atlanta.
—blackagendareport.com, July 28, 2010