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Response to Urban Violence Can't Wait
Chicago and other urban areas are in crisis. In Chicago, 113 people have been killed this year-a higher death toll than the troops have suffered in Afghanistan. The emergency is so dire that state legislators support calling out the National Guard to patrol Chicago's streets. Guard members now in Afghanistan might return to a more dangerous assignment.
As Mayor Daley noted, the suggestion is a "Band-Aid" at best. The troops are not trained as police. They might suppress the pain, but couldn't relieve it. More likely, their presence would increase violence and fear, not alleviate it.
But the urgency behind the proposal is right. This is a crisis, not a condition. This year, 150 children have been shot-25 fatally. In the 16 months leading up to December 2008, Chicago averaged 32 shootings of children a year.
In the emergency posed by the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the national government has mobilized in response. But in the urban emergency that is today's Chicago-and Detroit, and Los Angeles and Atlanta and more-the situation is deteriorating without much response.
Chicago needs more police, but it is short now by more than 700 officers-and that is getting worse. Chicago's young need jobs, but youth unemployment is at record heights. Nearly one in five black males across the country ages 20-24 is not working or in school. In urban areas, the rate is worse. In Illinois, only 13 percent of black teenagers have a job.
Chicago's young need good schools with longer hours and more weeks in the classroom so that they can learn. They need access to training programs that lead to jobs. They need structured after-school recreation. Instead, Chicago Public Schools are talking about moving to classrooms with 37 students in them, reducing the length of the school year and even cutting the number of days in school to four from five.
The economy may officially be in recovery, but Chicago is not. And Chicago's poorest areas are getting worse, not better. More homes are headed into foreclosure. Jobs are departing. Now middle-income public service jobs like teachers and police will be cut.
An emergency requires an urgent response. We do not stop to balance the budget before we send troops to Afghanistan. The Afghanistan intervention calls for the U.S. troops to provide security, for U.S. aid to help build schools and homes, and for U.S. aid and advisers to provide training and jobs to help win the hearts and minds of the Afghani people.
But there is no urgent response to Chicago's emergency. Congress could barely agree to extend unemployment benefits a month. The $100 billion Miller Bill to provide jobs in cities and save those that might be lost isn't now slated even to get a vote in the House. The $23 billion Harkin Bill to limit savage cuts in schools and layoffs of teachers is stalled in the Senate. Attention has turned to cutting deficits.
The president has created a commission to recommend action on the federal deficit. Yet deficits, for all the scare stories, are not an immediate emergency. The long-term debt projections are frightening, but they are due almost entirely to rising long-term health care costs. In the short term, deficits should go up rather than down to create jobs.
Chicago and America's urban areas need an intervention, before far more damage is done. It might sensibly be paid for by a tax on the Wall Street banks that caused the crisis and have been bailed out by taxpayers' money.
We need an emergency commission on the urban calamity, one that will detail a strategy for intervention. We need to hire more police to secure the streets, build schools and hire teachers, open training programs for young workers.
Our country must decide if this is an enduring condition or a crisis. The U.S. will spend billions on securing Afghanistan, but not Chicago. Dr. King once wrote: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." Surely a nation that ignores the emergency within its own cities is sowing the seeds of its own decline.
Reverend Jackson n can be contacted by e-mail at