Joseph Coleman was an aspiring rapper. In his amateur rap videos, he can be seen brandishing automatic weapons better suited for military combat zones in Iraq. His style of rap involved promoting his gang life and threatening his rivals. He was only a teenager when his life abruptly ended; he had been fatally shot as he was riding his bike in his neighborhood. Why had his music been so violent and hardcore? Why did Joseph Coleman have to die?
Jonylah Watkins was a six-month-old infant. In one of the few pictures available of her online, she was smiling. She was not a “gangsta rapper,” only an innocent bystander, yet her life would be cut short; she, too, would be shot. Why was her neighborhood such a violent place to live in? Why did Jonylah Watkins have to die?
Hadiya Pendleton was a high school honor roll student. She dreamed of becoming a politician. She performed at Barack Obama’s inauguration. When she returned to her hometown and was hanging out with her friends at the park, she was killed. Why was this teenage girl targeted? Why did Hadiya Pendleton have to die?
All of these tragic events took place in Chicago, and all of the victims were African-Americans. I grew up in the south side of Chicago and I’m an alumnus of the same high school that Hadiya Pendleton attended. My personal connection with the location that these tragedies occurred in has made me ponder why my community is so violent and why so many innocent lives have been taken. I have often thought about what could be done to create a safer environment in which people would not have to fear for their lives.
When considering where this violence stems from, many people would say that it is the result of a lack of morals that has contributed to juvenile delinquency among blacks. The rampant violence in the south side of Chicago is not caused by any sort of innate problem among African-Americans; rather, it stems from the remains of institutionalized racism in America. The African-American community originally came to Chicago in search of better jobs and a better life. Instead, they were met with bigotry from the Chicago housing authority, who restricted them to the south side of town, which later became known as the “black belt.” The community was neglected, not even given the benefit of regular garbage disposal services or having other basic needs met, which caused the infant mortality rate to skyrocket.
After these segregation laws to keep the black community “in their place” were overturned, Irish gangs participated in riots to terrorize and bomb innocent black people. One of the participants in these riots was a young Richard J. Daley, who later became mayor. During this time, many black youth banded together to defend their community.
Along with the outsourcing of factory jobs, this situation led the African-American community to become devastated; the resulting poverty caused many blacks to develop detrimental socio-political habits that are exemplified in gangs across Chicago. The very same groups of people who once defended their community from violence became gangs that inflicted violence on others. Many people turned to drug dealing, as that was the only way to obtain a viable source of income under the impoverished social conditions. Gangs became rivals over who would get which drug corners, and this territorial competition became a pretext for violence, with the ensuing conflicts often leading to casualties.
It’s important to realize what the origin of gang violence is so that we can, as a community, work to eliminate it. As an African-American who calls Chicago home, I plan to work tirelessly to change the bad habits that are prevalent in the black community, such as drugs, violence, and out-of-wedlock births. My goal is to improve the black community by teaching youth to choose a better lifestyle than that of a gang member or a drug dealer. I believe that Chicago will become more prosperous once its decadence is overcome and a more productive sector of society. No one should condemn or pass moral judgment on the African-American community for the natural result of the legacy of Jim Crow. Instead, we should accept the challenge of helping our community evolve into a more balanced, peaceful part of society. Education is the key to changing society for the better, and as we put forth effort to engage youth in adopting a better lifestyle, we will eventually see how much of a positive effect good morals and teachings can have on the community as a whole.
Arnold Richard Hirsch, “Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960″, University of Chicago,1998,http://books.google.com/books?id=px0PuO7GWhsC&pg=PP1&ots=9I1rYsYyNh&dq=%22Making+the+Second+Ghetto%22+hirsch&sig=IPgKY-xgpCRZwpCsboI_rk0UPgc#PPA18,M1