Well, unfortunately I feel compelled to talk about the subject of violence today. With the constant murders in Chicago—and the fact that today is the anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination—I must.
President Obama visited his adopted hometown of Chicago a week ago to address the relentless violence that took 535 lives in 2012.
In his remarks, he spoke about how he quote-unquote “screwed up” as a youth just like a number of the young black men in the audience but the difference was that he had more of a “safety net” there to catch him. He went on to say he was no different from them, and that what was different were the consequences young black men suffer today.
You know we often talk about crime and punishment, but how about punishment and crime? I mean, isn’t crime a result of subjecting children to a punishing environment where they feel they have no hope, no value, no chance at success, or even adulthood?
Before they are even old enough to think about committing a crime or, God forbid, taking a life, aren’t many being punished for being poor, being from a single-parent family, or being in constant survival mode?
You see, it’s easy to be ‘tough on crime’ and big on punishment. But if we were truly tough on crime, wouldn’t it be better to stop punishing our youth before they commit a crime in the first place?
Wouldn’t it be better to raise the minimum wage so more families could have a chance at reclaiming some small sense of stability? Wouldn’t it make more sense to end punitive and destructive educational policies like high-stakes testing that continue to leave our children behind? Wouldn’t it be smart to adopt policies that give all children access to quality pre-school and child care regardless of income or location?
And yet, after literally punishing children all the way through their formative years, we actually wonder why they resort to crime, drugs, gangs, and sadly, murder.
I’m well aware that there are nuances about the Chicago situation contributing to its insane murder rates, but this does not minimize my point. As a society, we spend a lot of time punishing children from the day they are born for things they have no control over; their family income, their parents or lack thereof, their skin color.
An environment of undeserved punishment is a breeding ground for bad things to happen, including the violence plaguing the Windy City.
Like our President, I can’t offer you one particular action item to go do and make the situation in Chicago or anywhere else better. But I can challenge you to challenge any policy that punishes our children unnecessarily and undermines their life chances.
Frederick Douglass was right when he said: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”