Thursday, May 17, 2007

Are you Joshua or are you Moses?

I offer sympathy to the family of Blair Holt. He was the young honor student killed last week on the bus at 103rd and Ada.

Since his murder, I've been seeing many of the usual suspects. The mayor harps on gun control-but not on unemployment issues, inflation, misuse of monies by the public schools for security, lack of after-school activities as well as poor funding for the park district-as the main factor. To him, it's just gun control.

Once the mayor speaks, we can be assured that 99 percent of our black elected officials will say nothing. The ministers got on the bus, prayed and sang. Yet the average business district block in the black community filled with storefront churches that employ no one and that are closed more than they are open. Do those churches really grasp the community needs or are they just part-time visitors to it?

Callers to WVON 1690-AM spewed forth opinions and solutions. One caller wants "them" all shipped off to an Alcatraz-type island, another blames the white man, and even more just call on God.

Truthfully, I don't think those in the "status quo" of authority are interested in doing or changing anything. Why? Let's go back to the case of Robert "Yummy" Sandifer. Many have forgotten what happened in August and September 1994. So allow me refresh your memories.
In August of 1994, a beautiful 14-year-old black girl named Shavon Dean was shot and killed. Just like Blair Holt, she was the innocent victim when some gang members got to shooting. Her murder sent shivers through Roseland, and the police came down hard looking for the shooter.

The heat was on because of her murder and many criminal activities had to be curtailed.
The police began to focus on a suspect. Robert "Yummy" Sandifer. He was called Yummy because of his love of cookies and junk food. He was well known throughout the Roseland community and because of his association with the Black Disciples. He and his "crew" were known to sell drugs, steal, and set fires. When news got around to the rest of his gang members that the police were looking for Yummy, others members of his gang got nervous. If Yummy was caught and started talking, a lot of them would be in trouble. So the word was put out on the street to take Yummy out.

Two of his fellow gang members, Derrick Hardaway, 16, and his brother Cragg, 14, both honor students, lured Yummy into a viaduct. He was found days later shot twice in the back of the head-execution style!

By the way, for those who have long forgotten, Yummy was 11 years old at the time of his death.
Derrick was sentenced to 45 years in jail and Cragg to 60.

After the murder of Yummy and the incarceration of the Hardaway brothers, there was outrage-outrage that lasted a while. But then it faded, and now here we are, 13 years later and the same-o-same-o has again happened. Children with a gun killing another child. Many of the same folks who were outraged 13 years ago are outraged today. But 13 years after the deaths of Shavon and Yummy, can anyone tell me anything what has been put into place so a senseless murder of one child by another won't ever happen again?

Well, truthfully and sadly, not much has changed.

As we look at the black community, where are the jobs for our teenagers? Had there been after-school activities, would Blair still have ended up dead? The city constantly cries broke while having money for Olympics bids, for Looptopia and for every whim the mayor fancies. That's how the mayor can give Loyola, a private institution, up to $46 million in TIF funds even though it doesn't pay taxes. We can have, as the Chicago Reader pointed out last week, young black kids who are hurdlers practicing in the hallways at Lane Tech because we don't have a single indoor fieldhouse for any of the public schools. Worst, the city is getting ready to give Ziegler Financial, a $3.2 billion investment company, $2.7 million to consolidate its offices in downtown Chicago.

As adults, we permit, tolerate, and, basically by doing nothing, encourage what has been going on to keep going on. We are not mad. We are not angry. We aren't even sick and tired of being sick and tired. Instead we've given up. We sit transfixed by the television and await the riches the prosperity ministries say we're due.

There's a popular sermon that many progressive ministers are giving. It's called the Joshua/Moses Syndrome. The premise of that sermon is that although Moses was used to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land, it was Joshua who was destined to lead them to possess the land. It's the same thing when it comes to ending violence by young people against young people.

So my heart and soul were lifted as I looked at the front pages of the papers and saw the young students from Julian High School walking out and marching to end the violence. March on you young Joshuas! And to the Moses, please just go somewhere and sit down! Your job is done!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Power of Words

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Disclaimer: The following story is entirely a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely co-incidental.

Carmen woke up upon hearing the loud bang on the door. As she crawled out of bed and peeked through her bedroom door, she could hear the loud male voices. She saw guns. Really big guns! She heard the men screaming to her mother, "Where is Cortez?" "We want Cortez!"

Her father was hiding by the side of her bed. As her mother pointed to the bedroom door, Carmen saw the word ICE on the back of their coats. She had seen that word on the TV news. She had seen men taken away in handcuffs and now they were here at her house. Even though Carmen was only 6 years old, her eyes grew wide as she read that word again and looked at her father.

Suddenly the door flew open. The men dressed in black grabbed her daddy and threw him across the bed. Her father shouted, "I know what I did was wrong. It was illegal. But I had to feed my family." Cortez pointed to Carmen and then to the baby sleeping in his crib. The men in the black jackets didn't care. "Come with us," they shouted as they handcuffed him and took him from the house.

Carmen ran from the room and found her mother. "Why are they doing that to my daddy?" she cried. Carmen looked at her father and thought of how much she loved playing with him before he went to work. Every day, Carmen would watch from her bedroom window as her father and the other men would gather on the corner. As a car pulled up, the men would surge toward it. Each of the men, just like her daddy, had children and the money they made would go toward feeding those children.

Carmen and her daddy had a special routine. Every day as he got to the corner, he would pretend to search the sky for her. Carmen would jump up and down and wave until finally her daddy waved back. No matter the weather, they played the same game. When it was cold, Cortez would take off his cap and wave it. When it was raining, he would lift the hood of his jacket back and give her the biggest grin.

Every day they did this and now Carmen's daddy was gone!
Carmen threw herself upon her bed. She grabbed the covers tightly and pulled them close to her nose so she could smell the cologne her daddy always wore. She thought back to the night before when she had snuck out of bed to listen to her mommy and daddy talk. Carmen wasn't able to hear the entire conversation, but what she did hear were words like "illegal," "trouble," and "if they come for me." She even heard her father tell her mother what to do in case he didn't come home. Her mother had cried and begged her father not to go. Cortez told his wife he had to take the risk. He had to work. Years ago he had wanted to be a roofing contractor or maybe even involved in lawn care by doing professional landscape architecture. But he didn't have his papers to do it.

Now as Carmen and her mother watched, the men in the black vests escorted her father to the car in the street. Carmen could see her father's head hanging low. Tears ran down Carmen's face as her father was placed into the back of the car. Her father looked up one last time at the window. This time he didn't wave. He couldn't. His hands were cuffed and as the car prepared to drive off, Carmen could see tears rolling down her father's face. Cortez had never wanted his children to see him like this. As he mumbled to the men getting in the car about just wanting to feed his kids, they told him they didn't care.

"We are a nation of laws and you have broken the law. Whatever your reasons, our job is to uphold the law. If you don't like the law, why didn't you and all your friends do something about it? You should have marched. You should have protested. You should have held a rally and gotten the mayor and all the politicians to come to it and speak about how they could help you. You should have had the Cook County board declare the county a sanctuary for you. How come with three congressmen in this city, all three of them don't use their position to always call attention to your issues? Why don't they tie your issues to any legislation pending that gives amnesty to those who immigrated here illegally?"

Oh, by the way, Cortez's last name is Johnson. And no, he's not an illegal immigrant. He is a previously incarcerated individual and a street pharmacist (ex-offender & drug dealer). The men in black coats were the POLICE and in Illinois, ex-offenders cannot be a roofing contractor or do professional landscape architecture or even become a barber without a license. To get a license, they have to be granted "a waiver based on internal criteria as well as the type of conviction (non-violent, misdemeanor or felony). A waiver is determined on a case-by-case basis by each occupational licensing committee."
This story doesn't have an ending "moral" like in most fairy tales, but it is a reminder of the power that words have. Those words can paint a picture. They can make you think one way or have the exact opposite meaning. If I had you believing that the story was about an illegal alien, read it again.

Words do have power. Our constitution is made up of words. The Ten Commandments are words. Every human being on this planet has developed language which is nothing more than words. That's why terms such as "previously incarcerated individual" sound better than "ex-offender" or "ex-convict" and "street pharmacist" is more palatable than "drug dealer."
As our politicians sit down to discuss what to do about illegal immigrants, let us remind them that we have ex-felons who need their help first and foremost. Any path to citizenship/legalization for illegals must include a path to expungement/restitution for ex-offenders. With 25,000 ex-offenders returning to Chicago annually, prisons should be about reform and offer them real opportunities so that we are not the victims of their recidivism. They are U.S. citizens and, most importantly, they have paid the jail time price that this society has placed on them. Their issues should be placed before legalizing those whose mere presence is breaking the law.