Hearts must change to re­duce vi­o­lence in Chicago

Albuquerque Journal - - OPINION - CAL THOMAS E-mail: tmsed­i­tors@tribune.com; copy­right, Tribune Con­tent Agency, LLC. Colum­nist

Chicago has come a long way from the ide­al­ized lyric “my kind of town, Chicago is,” which Frank Si­na­tra made fa­mous. True, Chicago has a his­tory of gang­land mur­ders go­ing back to the days of Al Capone, but 2016 set a new and lam­en­ta­ble record. Ac­cord­ing to CNN, cit­ing fig­ures re­leased by the Chicago Po­lice Depart­ment, Chicago ex­pe­ri­enced a surge in vi­o­lent crime in 2016. There were 762 mur­ders, 3,550 shoot­ings and 4,331 shooting vic­tims. This in a city with strict gun laws. In 2015, there were 480 mur­ders in Chicago. Most of the vi­o­lence is gang-re­lated. Father­less kids seek­ing a sense of be­long­ing and fam­ily are at­tracted to gangs they be­lieve will give them both.

The mu­si­cal “West Side Story” con­tains these Stephen Sond­heim lyrics, which of­fer a ra­tio­nale for gang mem­ber­ship:

“When you’re a Jet, You’re a Jet all the way From your first cig­a­rette To your last dyin’ day. When you’re a Jet, If the spit hits the fan, You got broth­ers around, You’re a fam­ily man! You’re never alone, You’re never dis­con­nected! You’re home with your own: When com­pany’s ex­pected, You’re well pro­tected!”

Ex­cept you’re not well pro­tected, as the mur­der rate proves.

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump has said if city of­fi­cials can’t deal with the vi­o­lence, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment might have to step in. There may be a bet­ter way. Last sum­mer, a coali­tion of re­li­gious groups or­ga­nized a sum­mit of gang lead­ers in Los An­ge­les. They met at the Church of Scientology, which many re­gard as a cult, but it shouldn’t mat­ter if re­sults are achieved.

They ap­pear to have suc­ceeded, or at least be­gun a process that may lead to more peace­ful streets.

At­ten­dees signed a “peace ban­ner,” which de­clared peace be­tween two of the most no­to­ri­ous gangs in the area, the Bloods and Crips.

A rap­per named “The Game” may have had the best line of all.

He wrote: “Be­cause the sad truth that no one wants to face is, be­fore we can get OUR LIVES TO MAT­TER to any­one else ... We have to show that OUR LIVES MAT­TER to US !!!! ”

The Los An­ge­les Times re­ported a com­ment by Michael “Big Mike” Cummings, a gang-in­ter­ven­tion worker in Watts, who said he is “sick and tired of los­ing our ba­bies,” adding, “The only thing that needs to be di­vided by col­ors is our laun­dry.” This strat­egy might work in Chicago, too. Last month the Aurora Bea­con-News re­ported on a for­mer gang mem­ber, Manny Rivera.

Now 34, Rivera joined a gang at age 14 shortly after meet­ing his fa­ther for the first time.

At 22, Rivera was shot by a ri­val gang mem­ber and later spent more than a year in prison for steal­ing a car.

When he got out he asked the gang leader if he could resign. That does not hap­pen of­ten, but in Rivera’s case it did.

He said the gang leader told him he could leave, but if he ever de­cided to come back there would be con­se­quences.

Rivera, who met his wife when he was 16, — she stuck with him in spite of his as­so­ciates — now pas­tors a church fol­low­ing his Chris­tian con­ver­sion.

On Dec. 31, Rivera par­tic­i­pated in an anti-vi­o­lence march in Chicago. Many marchers car­ried hand­made wooden crosses, one for each per­son mur­dered in the city dur­ing the year.

Rivera now seeks to lead oth­ers to know God and find love and ac­cep­tance in Him in­stead of gangs.

While the fed­eral gov­ern­ment can­not pre­fer one re­li­gion, it can en­cour­age and pro­vide re­sources to churches and re­li­gious groups who seek an­swers to a prob­lem that has de­fied sec­u­lar so­lu­tions.

A changed heart al­most al­ways re­sults in changed be­hav­ior and clearly the po­lice, the in­car­cer­a­tion of vi­o­lent of­fend­ers and stricter gun laws are not re­duc­ing the level of vi­o­lence.

As Don­ald Trump said in ap­peal­ing to African Amer­i­cans vot­ers, “What do you have to lose?” They’ve tried the Democrats for more than 40 years. Why not try some­thing new?

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