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Will Obama Cry for Inner City Youth?

By David Muhammad

Like President Obama and many others across the country, I too wiped away tears as I watched the horrifying news coverage of the tragic shootings in Newton, Conn. I immediately called my children who were still in school. I sat watching the television trying to fathom how I would respond if I got a call that a shooting had occurred at my children’s school. This brought on more tears. But for the parents of 20 children and six other families in Newton, it wasn’t an exercise; it was an excruciating reality.

I then watched and listened to our President, and like parents around the world, the shooting had affected him emotionally as well. Twenty children gunned down. He struggled to hold back tears.

It was then that my phone buzzed. I quickly grabbed it to see if it was one of my children calling back. But it wasn’t. It was a colleague in Chicago. I had emailed her the day before asking for research into one of the mentoring programs in the city’s schools for youth with the highest risk of being shot.

the-hartford-guardian-OpinionShe provided me with the information I was seeking. Then she included a P.S.: “What a devastating horrible day in CT. But frankly I wish people cared this much when it was children on the south and west sides of Chicago.”

I was snapped back into reality with the email. The tragedy in Newtown was truly horrific. But there is similar carnage carried out every day in the streets of America’s cities, especially in the President’s hometown of Chicago, where I work in Oakland, in Philadelphia, and many other cities across the nation.

In 2010, nearly 700 Chicago school children were shot and 66 of them died. Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended a memorial for 260 school children who had been killed in just the previous three years. On several occasions in the past year, tens of people have been shot in a single weekend on the streets of the city. The worst three-day stretch saw 10 killed and 37 wounded in gun fire. But Google the term “Chicago weekend shootings” and the results are far too many deadly weekends to count.

Oakland, Calif. has seen a huge increase in shootings. Last year, three small children were murdered in shootings. The youngest victim hadn’t yet turned 2. Oakland has become the first city in the country to have its police force taken over by a federal court. Because of a lack of resources, the city has one of the lowest police to resident ratios in the country.

Gun violence in America is a pandemic, but there is no round-the-clock news coverage. No national address from the President with tears. No pledge for urgent change.

Why? Is it because the children who die on the streets of America’s cities are black and brown? Is it because they are poor? What makes the victims of everyday inner-city gun violence expendable?

Like the horrendous shooting in Newton, easy access to guns and the challenges of mental illness contribute to the violence on America’s streets. Like the calls for change in guns laws that have been heard following this massacre, so too do we need tighter gun control because of the death and destruction that touches the hearts of mourning mothers in American cities every day.

Speaking at a prayer vigil in Newton, Obama said, “Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm? The answer is no, we’re not doing enough. And we’ll have to change.”

Mr. President, this is so very true. But it is not only these one-day mass shootings that cause us to cry out for the need to change, but also the daily gun violence that plagues our cities.

“We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true,” Obama said. “No single law, no set of laws, can eliminate evil or prevent every act, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this.”

We can do better in Chicago, in Oakland, in Philadelphia, and in every city in America.

(David Muhammad is the former Chief Probation Officer of Alameda County in California and the former Deputy Commissioner of Probation in New York City. He now consults with philanthropic foundations on juvenile justice issues)

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Platitudes Won’t Help Ailing Economy; Steady Paychecks Will

For the hordes of unemployed and structurally unemployable languishing in the  region, yesterday’s Labor Day holiday served as just another misery-mired day reminding them of the insane disconnect between their needs and the interests grabbing the attention of America’s elected leaders.

Yes, plenty of blame rightfully falls on President Obama and the Capitol Hill crew – inert Democratic leadership and their intransigent Republican colleagues – for failing to forcefully attack this crisis of massive unemployment.

Blame also befalls pompous-&-profoundly-insensitive state-level officials like Pennsylvania Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett, who blather about the unemployed refusing to work because they’d rather sit at home receiving unemployment benefits.

This callous contention ignores the reality that people want to work but there are woefully few jobs available in this landscape where experts say there are five or more applicants for each job opening.

Further, that contention ignores the fact that unemployment benefits pay, out are far less than what folks earned while working, meaning folks receiving unemployment benefits are not living “fat” and are scrambling to just pay their bills.

“A person once making $50,000 per year only gets a few hundred per week max on unemployment…maybe. Yes unemployment provides some income, but barely enough to survive,” said one unemployed Delaware Valley resident who’s worked for nearly 40 years, has two college degrees and hasn’t secured a new job despite two years of near-daily job-hunting.

“You have to apply for jobs online, but with no income you have to eliminate your Internet service to cut costs. This means you have to rely on public libraries for Internet access, and they’re closing libraries,” said this resident, who labors with the “social stigma” of not having a job.

“I want to work, but I’m repeatedly told I’m either overqualified or I don’t have prior experience, like for telemarketing. I know being over 50 years old, being female and being Black doesn’t help.”

Many feel that President Obama and Black leaders (elected officials, civil rights leaders and the clergy) routinely reference unemployment as a problem, but do too little to creatively address this problem.

“Black leadership, starting with the president, knows full well the dire circumstances, but needs to provide more resources to be aimed toward the Black community that has been hit the hardest,” said Chad Dion Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn School of Social Work.

“Presently, they have not addressed this in the most effective of ways,” continued Lassiter, who co-hosts the “Wise Talk” program on 900AM WURD. “The employment gap can be addressed with job training, green empowerment zones and a genuine partnership with small business.”

Resolving the current massive unemployment means more than getting the recent jobless back to work. Any meaningful long-term solution must include addressing the chronically unemployed; that includes ex-offenders.

“We currently have between 250,000 and 300,000 ex-offenders in Philly who are blocked from job opportunities in financial institutions, the educational system, the medical profession and the hospitality industry, which is the economic engine for this region,” said Bilal Qayyum, president of the Father’s Day Rally Committee.

“This status of ex-offender, along with problems related to poverty, comprises a huge drain on this city’s resources,” Qayyum noted. “It is in the interest of whites to work with Blacks to resolve this issue. Imprisonment is an economic issue. We must talk about it.”

Unified action among those getting crushed by this economy could go a long way to forcing elected officials and corporate elites to address inequities.

But people like Glennn Beck, the broadcast agitator, and Sarah Palin, the political hustler/presidential aspirant, argue against interracial cooperation by duping tea-bagger-types into thinking they share mutual interests with the economic elite, who view them with disdain.

Fox News folks like Beck regularly rail about “threats” facing America from Communism, yet a large advertiser on Fox is Wal-Mart, America’s largest importer of goods from China, which is the world’s largest Communist country.

Beck routinely bashes Blacks and liberals that he links to the alleged Communists and socialists he claims are undermining America. Yet, Beck doesn’t demand boycotts of Wal-Mart, though the giant retail firm helps prop up China’s Communist leaders through purchases of Chinese-produced goods averaging over $25-billion annually.

Neither does Beck – who recently staged a large rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., supposedly to restore “integrity” in America – demand that his Fox employers stop accepting millions in ad revenue from Wal-Mart, the corporation that abuses American workers and aids China.

The Glenn Becks of an earlier era wielded the specter of communism to bash the Black leaders who sent a petition to the United Nations in the early 1950s charging the U.S. government with engaging in genocide against Blacks.

“The prime mover of the mammoth and deliberate conspiracy to commit genocide against the Negro people in the United States is monopoly capital,” stated the “We Charge Genocide” petition.

That petition, incidentally, blasted the economic exploitation that hurt working Americans of all races…then and now.

“While monopoly’s immediate interest is profit, its long-term aim is keeping the political and economic control it now enjoys over the American people and the American government…through…setting one group of Americans against another.”

Unemployed Americans need paychecks, not phony platitudes from well-heeled politicians and media pundits about stoically accepting their plight.

Linn Washington Jr. is an award-winning writer who teaches journalism at Temple University.

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