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Inner-city violence: Not just our problem; it's everyone's problem

Elinor Tatum | 4/12/2011, 4:37 p.m.

Day after day, night after night, we hear about another shooting, another murder, another young person caught in the crossfire, another life snuffed out, and at the end of the day, nothing is done to stop the violence.

Our community comes out time and time again to try to bring attention to this deepening problem of violence. We have marches, "days of outrage," "take back the night," "stop the violence," but who is listening? Who is paying attention to our troubles? Who cares about our communities?

This problem of inner-city violence is not New York's alone. It is every inner city across this country. From Newark, to L.A., Las Vegas to Chicago, it is not just an inner city problem; it is not just our problem. It is a national problem. And we need the nation to address it.

President Barack Obama's home city of Chicago is one of the most brutal cities in the country. Over the last 60 days, there has been 214 shootings in the Chicago area of which 16 have ended up in a death. In New York City, there has been 33 shootings, ending in multiple deaths. These numbers, while lower than the numbers in the 1970s and 1980s are still alarming since they are centered around our communities.

If this epidemic were occurring in white neighborhoods, there would be such a fast change in policy it would make your head spin, but in our communities, change comes slowly, if at all. There are few who really understand or care about the plight of our community, but those that do speak with a strong voice, with conviction and passion because they are concerned about what happens to our next generation.

Some may try to blame our community for the violence, but when it comes right down to it, a significant portion of the violence is the result of the failure of the larger society. A society that under-educates, all too often provides inadequate housing, health care, and employment opportunity, and a police system that is detached from the needs and concerns of our community.

All too often, our young people do not get the education that they have a right to. They are trained to be mediocre, and that mediocrity leads to low paying jobs, illiteracy and crime. And each day, more and more people from our community are facing difficulty finding decent housing, and those who have homes are struggling to just hold on to them. If these strains to our community were not enough, we also face a police system that doesn't see our community as a partner. Instead, the police have alienated our people, standing as outsiders, and far too often not knowing the communities they patrol.

And lastly, when our young people get into the criminal justice system, it is a revolving door of criminality because the prisons no longer even try to reform or rehabilitate the offenders. The system is only about punishment. The services in education and job training do not exist as they did in the past. And then, for the most part, the prisoners come out being betters criminals than they were coming in--or, even worse, they come out criminalized when they could have received alternative sentencing and assistance, which could have led them to be productive members of society.

If we do not change this, we are all in trouble. Our future depends not only on our youth, but also on the collective strength of our communities. And when there is violence among us, there is a rift in the fabric that weaves us together. We need a national commitment to stop inner-city violence, we need sustained investment in our communities, we need this directive from the top, and we need to know that our marches, letters and stories are not falling on deaf ears. We need attention to this matter and we need it now.