I have been reading about the latest surge in murders in Philadelphia. Philadelphians are again questioning whether their city is as safe as Iraq. I do not know what the statistics are for the murder rate are in Iraq, but I know it does not matter in a city where “another surge in murders” is an ordinary occurrence. Why are people killing each other in Philadelphia?
Anyone who has to grow up under some of the same conditions these kids have to grow up under would be more likely to commit violent crimes than other people. The teachers at countless public schools across the city understand this very well. I spent four years teaching at one of Philadelphia’s “persistently dangerous” middle schools. Lex Street (the largest mass murder in the history of Philadelphia) happened during my first year a couple blocks away from the school. The year Jasmine McDonald (one of our brightest students) was murdered was my last.
The faithful decent people with enough conviction to endure urban America’s hardships from birth through adulthood while maintaining optimism and charactor are the people who will guide our cities to better days. The truly fortunate thing is that there are far more of these people than you might expect, considering the circumstances.
Could it be that the kind of money we are spending in Iraq to insure Iraqi freedom could find just as constructive use at home in our own cities? To insure that our American freedom will be present in our cities, somewhere along the line people are going to have to decide to stop killing each other. How do you get people to decide to stop killing each other?
People who grow up feeling safe and cared about are less likely to kill other people later in life. The government will need to see that every child who is not already getting the kind of attention and support needed to secure a happy and healthy life will get that kind of attention and support.
Where to go from here? I can only imagine that it would be a painful transition. Parents would have to face up to the fact that if they cannot put their child first, someone else would have to. We would have to replicate this in every city across the US. Such a great change in what has become our American identity is ambitious. It would take at least a generation or two before a system of nurture and care becomes a self-sustaining cycle. It might come at a bigger price tag than any war we have fought yet, but there will be far fewer casualties. The Iraq war was a pressing issue of national security and preservation of American freedom. This is just as pressing.
What are the other options?