The tragic death of Nykea Aldridge, the cousin of basketball star Dwayne Wade, has once again called the nation’s attention to the horrific human carnage afflicting Black neighborhoods in Chicago and across the country. Chicago has become the epicenter, the focal point of an internal epidemic of violence and murders that is causing excoriating pain, anguish and anxiety in Black America. It was the subject of Spike Lee’s film Chicrac, and the latest version of Barber Shop also dealt with the issue. On the very day that Nykea Aldridge was killed, Dwayne Wade participated in a ESPN Town Hall Meeting on the crisis in Chicago and First Take with Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman devoted an entire show to the issue. Within 24 hours of this tragic loss, four more people were killed in Chicago and 23 others were shot.
As Marvin Gaye might put it, “what’s going on” in Chicago and America’s “dark ghettos?” Several times a year, after incidents like the death of Nykea Aldridge, there are momentary peaks of interest as newspapers write yet another series of reports on the issue and television networks convene panels of pundits to pontificate on the crisis and highly publicized town hall meetings are held to explore the “causes and the cures.” Frankly, I am “sick and tired of being sick and tired” of the national head scratching on this life and death issue. The answer is both simple and complex, racism kills!
For years the Institute of the Black World 21st Century has persistently decried the “State of Emergency” in America’s “dark ghettos,” a multifaceted crisis brought on by a racist “White backlash” against the “gains” of Blacks during the Civil Rights Movement. Since the Reagan era, rightwing politicians have fueled and exploited this backlash to dismantle jobs and economic programs perceived to be of benefit to Black people. Massive federal government disinvestment shredded the safety net of social, educational and economic programs which ameliorated conditions of poverty in urban inner-city neighborhoods. Programs like the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), that employed hundreds of thousands of Black youth in public service jobs, no longer exist. And, de-industrialization has deprived vast numbers of Black people of the opportunity to earn decent wages working in a virtually non-existent manufacturing sector. As Harvard Professor William Julius Wilson has documented, in many inner-city Black neighborhoods, “work has disappeared.” Joblessness, which includes those who have given up looking for work, ranges from 30-50% among young Black men in many urban neighborhoods.
Under these circumstances an illicit economy emerged, largely engaged in by a relatively small number of residents, centered around drugs and related activities; an economy which breeds violent turf battles to protect territories and a cycle of murders and retaliation which become a way of life in some distressed urban neighborhoods. Over time an erosion of values, and what Cornel West calls a kind of “nihilism” sets in that accounts for how a few within these neighborhoods can commit senseless acts of violence and murder with no apparent conscience.
Urban inner-city neighborhoods have been deliberately neglected and abandoned by government and private institutions at the local, state and federal level. In fact, the response to the plight of America’s “dark ghettos” has been to declare a “War on Drugs” and impose racially targeted police and criminal justice policies and practices that have resulted in the constant harassment, intimidation, arrest, detention and killing of Black people. Massive disinvestment, de-industrialization, the emergence of the illicit economy, “the War on Drugs” and racially biased police and criminal justice policies and practices - these are among the root causes of the crises of crime, violence and fratricide/murders in Chicago and similarly situated Black neighborhoods across the country. Racism kills!
During the discussion on First Take, Professor Michael Eric Dyson brilliantly and passionately made the case that jobs and justice would go a long way towards eradicating the epidemic of violence and fratricide. Hall of Fame basketball star Isaiah Thomas also pointed to the absence of investment in recreation and community centers in Black neighborhoods. What needs to be done is not rocket science, but America, this nation, refuses to act to heal Black families and communities. Racism kills!
It is obvious that massive resources in the form of jobs, economic development, housing and educational programs are urgently needed to address the crisis, something akin to a Domestic Marshall Plan to create safe, just and humane communities. But, while the head scratching and handwringing go on, inaction is the order of the day. If the chronic tragedies transpiring in Black communities were happening in White communities, a State of the Emergency would be declared and this nation would act with dispatch to address the crisis. The crises in cities like Chicago have a “disparate impact” or “discriminatory effect” on Black people. This constitutes structural/institutional racism. But, Black people are the “wrong complexion to get the protection.” Hence, the death and destruction go on in the midst of a presidential election in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Racism kills!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com. His weekly radio show, Vantage Point can be heard Mondays 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon on WBAI, 99.5 FM, Pacifica in New York or streaming live via WBAI.org. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org