Answer to youth violence is jobs, not National Guard

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While the urgency to address Chicago's rampant wave of violence is extremely warranted, I think it's absolutely ridiculous that two Illinois lawmakers are requesting to bring in the National Guard as a way to control the problem.

In a press conference Sunday Chicago Democratic Reps. John Fritchey and LaShawn Ford said they want Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, to activate the National Guard as a solution to save lives.

Granted the city has seen a rising surge of violence recently, especially now that the weather appears to be warming up. Every year residents here have to deal with a deadly trend that only gets worse as summer approaches and it's our children that continue to suffer its tragic consequences.

Last week alone seven people died and 18 were wounded, mostly by gunfire. Chicago has had over 100 homicide victims so far this year. And 25 Chicago student's lives have been cut short due to youth violence.

The numbers are grim and the reality of young lives lost is staggering.

At the same time working-class families in Chicago, weather Black, Latino or white are dealing with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Good jobs that pay livable wages with decent benefits not to mention health insurance are increasingly scarce these days.

Everyday families across the city are being hit with dire unemployment figures and many continue to lose their homes in an on-going foreclosure crisis.

Chicago Public Schools recently announced sweeping cuts and is expected to fire hundreds of union teachers while the majority of our schools remain overcrowded and under-funded.

Widespread poverty, lack of opportunities and a consistent lack of public resources for our young people are the norm for most low-income neighborhoods.

Overall, Illinois, like states nationwide, is undergoing one of the worst budget disasters in recent history leaving thousands jobless and dozens of low-income communities without badly needed human services.

Arguably these are dismal times for many. And issues related to our struggling economy may have a direct result as to why so many young people see street gangs as their only option.

But for Reps. Fritchey and Ford to suggest bringing in the military as a way to solve the violence plaguing Chicago's streets, is way off the mark.

When our neighborhoods lack job opportunities, affordable housing and face failing educational institutions, daily life for families in these communities and particularly single-parent households becomes extremely difficult.

Street gangs offer young people a sense of belonging and a quick money fix. And when you have broken families and areas that struggle with constant disparities, than the children of those neighborhoods become vulnerable for gang recruitment.

What is needed, not only from community leaders, but also more importantly from our elected officials is real common-sense solutions and political action.

Too much money is being spent on incarcerating and criminalizing young people and too little is being allocated toward violence prevention measures to keep youth from ending up in jail or in a coffin. And we need common-sense gun laws too.

Meanwhile the billions of dollars being spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should be used toward fighting the war here on the streets and used for creating positive opportunities for young people like summer jobs.

A report I came across a couple of years ago finds that heavy-handed suppression efforts have a poor track record when it comes to reducing crime and can actually increase gang cohesion. The report: "Gang Wars: The Failure of Enforcement Tactics and the Need for Public Safety Strategies," notes that more police, more prisons and more punishments don't work.

Released by the Justice Policy Institute, the study says gang member's account for a relatively small share of crime in most jurisdictions. And street gangs do not dominate or drive the drug trade. And the public face of the gang problem may seem Black or Latino only, yet it's whites that make up the largest group of adolescent gang members and the majority of gun victims.

Job training, mentoring, after-school activities and recreational programs make significant dents in gang violence, according to the report.

I wholeheartedly agree.

State lawmakers should be fighting tooth and nail toward allocating more funds for public schools and social programs and less for large-scale arrests, prison initiatives or calling in the U.S. military.

Young people need positive alternatives and educational opportunities to grow and become successful leaders of our communities. They need resources and jobs and our elected officials ought to lead by example and be their main advocates.

Public safety is a major concern for families who just want to work, live in peace and make sure their children receive an education out of harm's way.

But we also know that one way to solving community violence in our neighborhoods is by uniting and fighting for our basic rights like jobs, public education and alternative programs that young people deserve.

Calling in the National Guard and purporting more stringent forms of enforcement on our troubled and unemployed youth is not the answer.

They need jobs.

Photo: Wesley Keith, 8, right, pretends he is dead in a coffin carried by Lamar Robinson, 16, center, and other members of the Greater Roseland Community Committee Youth Voices Against Violence group during the Day of Action Rally in Chicago, June 18, 2009. Lane Christiansen/Chicago Tribune/AP