Back in the 1980s, First Lady Nancy Reagan coined her “Just Say No” campaign to combat drug use. I remember a social worker explaining to me why it was misguided. If you’re a 16-year-old new mother living in the Robert Taylor homes, she said, with no job, no education and no future, drugs are the best part of your day, the time when you feel most real and alive, and until they come up with a program to counter that, to offer people a life better than drugs, nothing is going to work.
I thought of that Saturday, sitting at the United Center, watching the South Side beat the West Side, 46-45, in Joakim Noah’s One City Basketball Tournament.
It happened to be held right after 11-year-old Shamiya Adams, killed last week while she made s’mores at a sleep over, was buried—Gov. Pat Quinn came from the funeral, and talked about how exceptional she was.
The extreme tragedy of these cases captivates the media and public—the sweet faces of these innocent victims, usually girls, in stark contrast with the mug shots of the older, tougher, young men who kill them.
But in order to hope to solve the problem, or rather, to be less ineffectual facing it, we need to care about those young men, too, to understand that, just as people who take drugs have reasons to do so, that it seems in their best interests, so those who join gangs do so, not out of irrational bloodlust or mere greed, but because it makes sense: a grim, skewed sense, but sense nevertheless. In many places, joining a gang is obligatory, kids have to if they want to stay safe. The gangs offer protection, love, respect, a purpose. Who in Chicago really wants poor, young poor black men? Gangs sure do.
To continue reading, click here.