During Barack Obama’s first run for presidency one question followed him almost everywhere he went: What is your plan and timeline for ending the war in Iraq? It was arguably his response to that question that won the votes of millions of Americans who were tired of seeing flag-draped caskets carrying the corpses of slain soldiers back into the country. With the upcoming presidential election, the war in Afghanistan is not the only one that we should have lingering questions about.
Chicago’s alarming “war zone-like statistics” reflect a state of emergency that demands both immediate and long-term intervention.
While 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, more than 5,000 individuals have been killed by gunfire in Chicago during the same period, as reported by WBEZ based on the Department of Defense and FBI data. And the number of Chicago homicides that have taken place this year (228) exceeds the number of Americans who have died in Afghanistan (144), according to The Daily. Some sources report that murders are up 35 percent from last year with the Chicago Tribune putting the percentage increase as high as 49.25 percent.
For months, many of us have waited for President Obama to give voice to the violence haunting civilians in his hometown. Unfortunately, his words came via a videotaped message that never aired. And even then, it seems that his statement still fell short of a war cry for Chicago as he spoke of the need to “provide stronger role models than the gang-banger on the corner.”
The onus to be deeply troubled by and strategically responsive to Chicago’s pandemic of violence obviously doesn’t fall solely on Obama, but that’s surely the type of commander-in-chief that I want in office. One who is committed to ensuring that Americans don’t have to walk on blood-stained sidewalks day in and day out, regardless of what their zip code is. I understand that localized leadership is where the real power rests in matters like this, but are we demanding enough from our presidential candidates?
In addition to ensuring that we have a thriving economy, protecting our rights as U.S. citizens, securing a competitive educational system, and providing us greater access to quality health care, I also want my president to be responsive when an American city is held under siege by stray bullets and forced to live in a state of perpetual fear.
I want that leader to be equally responsive regardless of the dominant racial makeup of the people who are suffering. Let's be clear about the fact that if President Obama had a son, he would not only look like Trayvon Martin, he would also look like the masses of young black men who are dying in the streets of Southside Chicago.
This isn’t a call for militia to take control over the city, but Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam seemingly understand the need to mobilize and to do so immediately, as they discuss plans for a gang summit and the willingness to be martyred in an urban war that plagues the city where they are headquartered.
Many of us have thought that circumstances in Chicago would get better, as it has in many other cities once branded as “murder capitals.” But it has not and it hasn’t because the quality of life for Chicagoans has yet to improve. Like many urban centers, Chicago’s disfranchised communities remain riddled with high unemployment rates, drug infestation, gun accessibility, a code of silence, failing schools and poor community relations with law enforcement.
The real tragedy in the matter is that there isn’t a single politician that we could elect — even one who can claim it as hometown — that can mend all the brokenness. None of them has the localized solutions that we desperately seek and many of them are too detached from the plight of the poor to sincerely care. But that’s the whole point — for us to stop thinking that the answers to all of our problems (although many do) rest in whether or not the Democratic Obama-Biden or Republican Romney-Ryan ticket wins.
If what we’re up against is a generation that believes it has nothing to live for but everything to kill for, then it’s up to all of us — in Chicago and across this nation — to ensure that no one amongst us, especially a young person, holds that same mentality. Obama, Romney and a political knight in shining armor yet unseen won’t cure their generational hopelessness, but we can use whatever sphere of influence we have to ensure that they know and honor the value of life.
And beyond that, we can also do our part to plant seeds of hope wherever possible. As I commit myself to being a part of the solution and not the problem, I started this week by securing a 16-year-old in my life an employment opportunity after she voiced frustration about wanting a job. In addition to registering and getting out to vote, how will you plant a seed in your community and in the young people that surround you? You might just save a life by doing so.
Rahiel Tesfamariam is a columnist and blogger for The Washington Post and The RootDC. She is the founder/editorial director of Urban Cusp , an online lifestyle magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness. Follow her on Twitter @RahielT .