Chicago, home of one of the nation's most stringent gun bans for fifty years, has also been the source of many frightening statistics. The city of Chicago - not the greater metropolitan area, just Chicago proper - surpassed 500 homicides in 2012 all by itself. If gun bans are the solution, the problem must be something other than a murder epidemic, because this gun ban sure isn't solving that one.
It's not people from outside Chicago committing the crimes, either. An easy out for the gun banners, if it were true, would be to simply prove that the villains are visitors from one of those "gun states." But are Texans, Louisianans, and Oklahomans driving into Chicago to mug old ladies and rape young ones, to rob homes and kill shopkeepers, to start street fights and then finish them for good? I think not.
No, by an incredible majority, these are Chicagoans killing Chicagoans. Many of them are people who never even venture out of Chicago, people who stay within a few miles of home for most or even all of their lives. They live in Chicago's government housing. They walk to Chicago's government schools as children, and may eat two or even three meals there before returning home, or perhaps they're bused to and fro in a government bus. Many don't even notice the high cost of fuel that cripples the finances of the rest of us, because they don't own cars; they ride a government-operated "city bus," and don't understand when fuel and manpower costs require the ticket prices of public transportation to go up.
They eat food purchased on a government credit card that's delivered once a month by a government employee with a big satchel (we used to call what he delivered a "welfare check," or "food stamps," but now it's just another piece of plastic). One of the few things they do that isn't government-run is the rare occasion when they present that welfare card at a privately-owned grocery store or neighborhood convenience store. They often are born in a government hospital, live in public housing from birth to death, and are buried from the government morgue when the end finally comes, sometimes much too soon.
This is of course a generalization; it would not be true to say that this describes all of the vicious villains and sad victims who contribute to the murder statistics in Chicago or any city. But it isn't that far off, either. Government plays such a great role in the lives of Chicagoans, we cannot look at any individual statistics in a vacuum; we must look at the larger picture. Why five hundred successful homicides in a single year, on top of countless thousands of unsuccessful homicides, in which the victim lived, probably to be victimized again? And perhaps most importantly, why would anyone stay there?
A Family Makes the News
On the weekend of January 26, 2013, a sad story made the news: a woman mourned the loss of her fourth and last child to a killer's bullet. The Associated Press reports that she once had four children; her first son was shot to death by a high school classmate in 1995. Five years later, another son and a daughter were murdered in separate shootings on the same street, both times by teenagers. The mother and her one remaining son, now 34, still lived in the same neighborhood, until early Saturday morning, when he and a friend were shot while sitting in a car, leaving the mother all alone.
Consistent with the required spin of the modern American MainStream Media, the AP article was titled "Mother mourns loss of fourth child to gun violence."
It could be said that this headline is true. But numerous other titles would be equally true, if less political. "Mother loses four children to failed criminal justice system." "Mother loses four children to Chicago's dangerous neighborhoods." Or the least judgmental of all: "Chicago mother sees her last child join first three as murder victims."
A headline doesn't have to assign blame in the title, but when it does, it's a conscious editorial decision. The AP chose to file this one as a proof of "gun violence" for a reason.
We aren't told whether gang activity was involved, or drugs, or theft (though the mother does say her son "was trying to change," even as he sat in a car with a friend at 2:30 AM on a Friday night, which may be a hint). The odds are that at least a couple of her children's killings were related to gang activity, even if her children were themselves innocent. Gangs rule many of Chicago's streets; the drug trade and prostitution trade being the commerce of a welfare world in which legitimate jobs cost you your government checks, so you turn to an off-the-books world free of the danger of Washington and Springfield cutting you off, but with a different danger all its own.
Agree to deal and screw up, and you're killed. Agree to turn tricks but dissatisfy the wrong john, and you're killed. Or refuse the offer of such a job, because you want to stay honest, and they may kill you even faster. Raised in a world that subsists entirely on the confiscated earnings of others, morality has a different meaning, a weaker hold.
The Left will blame the guns, and look no further. If their killers had no guns, they wouldn't have been shot, they reason. As if people who obey no other law would choose to obey that one. As if people who mug old ladies, rape young joggers, rob homes and knock over convenience stores will obey a law that says you can't possess a handgun and some ammunition. The lack of reasoning on that side of the aisle never ceases to amaze.
Why do they stay?
One of the great old films of the early 1960s, during Rex Harrison's ride at the top of the entertainment world, concerned a "Yellow Rolls Royce." As a wealthy British noble, Harrison buys the yellow Phantom for his wife, then later sees the car in a parking lot (at the races, if memory serves), his wife in the car, dallying with another man. As the example of classic gentlemanly British restraint we expect from Harrison, he holds in his anger, and simply directs an aide to "Sell the Rolls. It no longer pleases me."
Just as he couldn't bear to see the car again, a car that he would forever identify with the scar of being cuckolded, we all know of people who avoid a spot where bad things have happened to them. The place where your lover dumped you, the place where you were injured in a fall, the hospital or nursing home where a loved one passed away. Many of us avoid a spot to avoid the memories, no matter whether it's really fair to blame the spot for the tragedy or not.
It's another matter entirely, however, when the spot really does share legitimate blame. The poor mother of today's story saw children killed by students in a high school, still she stayed to put her other children through that same school system. She saw her own children murdered by neighbors, in the neighborhood in which they lived, still she never moved away from that neighborhood. Thirteen years after her third child was killed on Chicago's near South Side, she still lived there with her fourth. Thirteen years they remained in the neighborhood, ready to be a statistic again.
The question faced by the reader must be Why? Why on earth would anyone stay in so obviously dangerous a neighborhood that three of her children were murdered in three separate events in five years? Why stay, keeping her remaining son, and herself, at risk for another thirteen, until the odds finally, tragically, caught up with the fourth one as well?
There is only one reason. Only one thing can cause a person to act against his better judgment in such a manner: if the person has been raised with all decisions made for him, if he is literally unaware that there even is a choice in the matter. If he is incapable of making intelligent decisions at all.
A World of Opportunity
For thousands of years of human history, man’s destiny in life was settled by the circumstances of his birth. The son of a farmer became a farmer; the daughter of a farmer became the wife of another farmer, and the mother of the farmers of the future. So too for the children of fishermen, the children of blacksmiths, the children of servants.
This cultural stagnation gained a name in the middle ages, as feudalism. There might be departures from the norm; the second boy might become a soldier, the third might become a cleric. Still, those who had children would likely see them remain in the profession of their ancestors; it was all they knew.
The United States was to be a wonderful change to this historical stagnation. Alexander Hamilton was born into poverty but became a lawyer, politician and soldier. Henry Knox was born the son of a shipbuilder, became a bookseller and then a soldier, a general, and a government minister. Gouverneur Morris was born into an agricultural family, but became a lawyer, financier, investor, and politician.
The American Dream was to build a nation in which a child could grow up into a career of his own choosing. Yes, it might be easy for the son of a lawyer or doctor to follow in his father’s footsteps, the son of a worker at an auto factory or foundry to get his first job there as well, but it would no longer be automatic; it would no longer be the norm.
We spend our teen years thinking about careers, learning about our options. We study biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, calculus, history, composition, psychology, art and shop in high school, not because any career will utilize all those skills, but because exposure to them all can give a youth an appreciation of the countless paths open to him.
We discuss it with our children or grandchildren from an early age. What do you want to be when you grow up? A schoolteacher or professor? An astronaut or soldier? A writer like Mom? An accountant like Dad? A restauranteur like Uncle Mike, a director like Aunt Nina? We may change our minds twenty times during our teen years, and that’s fine. It just hammers home the fact that we have countless options in this country.
Somewhere along the way, however, little enclaves of the country never got the memo. First we told black slaves they could never be more than a slave, then American Indians they could never leave their reservations. As we started to fix those problems – first with a war and an Emancipation Proclamation, then with a 14th Amendment – new errors came along, quietly, under the guise of charity, to lock people into their circumstances again.
First, a prospering country had the money to fund charities, homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Then a nation in depression imagined for the first time a national obligation to feed and house the unemployed, then the unemployable, then the very young and very old, and eventually almost anyone who wanted it.
Welcome to the welfare state.
Ghettos were once ethnic enclaves of newly arrived immigrants, who would work three jobs to get out of them. New ghettos arose, ghettos run by the government, with odd rules – if you have income, your checks will dwindle, if you have more kids for whom you cannot provide, your checks will increase. If you have a husband, your check shrinks or ends; if you have children while unmarried, your checks will grow.
Whatever the genuine need “in the now” – and this is not to say that there is no genuine need, of course there is – the societal cost of such ever-growing programs was not considered beyond the financial cost. The Right would shout “It’s wrong, it’s dangerous, it’s fatal!” and the Left would accuse the Right of just being cheap. The Right would shout “It’s not just about the money!” and the Left would demonize them for being tightwads. But the Right, as usual, was right. From New Deal to Great Society and beyond, the American Left has built enclaves – little welfare state communities, from the big cities to the Appalachian hill towns – in which the American Dream is not considered because its very worldview simply does not exist.
A child can’t decide whether to follow in his dad’s footsteps if he doesn’t know who his dad was, or if he didn’t know what his dad’s footsteps were… or even, if his dad – and mom too – never left any footsteps at all.
We now have generations of welfare dependence, generations of children raised by non-workers. There are neighborhoods in which people have been born and raised, fed and dressed, schooled and bused, by their government, with no real decision-makers in the family as their guides.
Most Americans can still see Dad or Mom in their memories, sitting at the kitchen table or the homework desk, checkbook in one hand, stack of mail in the other, as they pay the month’s bills, trying to stretch a salary over the complex finances of a modern family. We grow up with memories of dinner table discussions with our parents – can we afford a new car yet, or should we wait another year? Can we afford a new house yet, and if so, where? Can we look at the north shore, should we stay in the northwest suburbs, what would that move do to our commutes? How are the schools there, does the park district have a good theater program, or soccer, or dance, or art? Which high school, which college, can we afford for you to go away or will you have to commute?
Our parents may have made the final decisions, but they included us in the early discussions, teaching us, slowly and surely, how to weigh the pluses and minuses, how to come to rational conclusions as we plan our lives.
For most readers of this page, this isn’t even worth pointing out. It goes without saying; why hammer the point to death?
But for those in our welfare state enclaves – the public-housing funded neighborhoods of our cities in particular – the above experience is utterly foreign to them. The apartment is just provided; the food stamp debit card pays until it runs out. School is free, lunches are free if you sign a form… the bus is free if you qualify (and they all do). This isn’t about color – there are blacks, whites, Hispanics, and more in these circumstances. But it is about a type of people: the denizens of a welfare state, raised without experience in making decisions.
They go to the kindergarten, grammar schools, and high school assigned to their geographic location. They take the classes assigned to them, join the sports that the gym teacher tells them they’ll be good at, and focus much of their effort on not being beaten up. They even eat what’s chosen for them in the cafeteria. If they eat pizza on Monday, burger on Tuesday, stew on Wednesday, sandwich on Thursday and tacos on Friday, it’s not because they’ve made those choices themselves; it’s because that’s what the cafeteria served that day.
This isn’t to say there are no decisions at all; there’s always What to watch on TV, What to play on the game console, What to wear… and of course the most pressing question: Whether to give in to the gangs or to try to resist.
These are decisions, and children raised the right way might be able to make these decisions, and others, well. But if you didn’t grow up with your dad and mom agonizing over their careers, their choice of house and school, which bills to pay and which projects to put off another year, you might be completely lost when it comes to the decisions that require thoughtfulness.
Remember, we are now talking about two or three generations of people raised without an environment of day-to-day decision-making. So when regular Americans might say “time to go get a job”, they wait for a job to just show up, which doesn’t happen often, other than the jobs offered by drug dealers and pimps.
When regular Americans might say “time to fix the wiring,” they let it go – they don’t own this apartment, after all – until it starts an electrical fire and the government moves them somewhere else.
And when regular Americans might say “time to move out of this neighborhood,” they don’t think of it; they don’t realize that it’s an option, or they don’t know how to go about doing it.
The vicious cycle
Back to the weekend’s news story. A woman sees her child killed by a classmate outside his school. She stays in the neighborhood. Five years later, another is killed, and then another. And after thirteen more years go by, her last one is killed.
Readers of this news story – subscribers to the paper, people reading it online, people hearing about it on the TV or radio news – all ask “Why did you stay? Why didn’t you move?” We talk to ourselves as we read the story in disbelief; we know there are jobs elsewhere, there are free schools elsewhere, government food stamps elsewhere. She could have moved to public housing a few miles away, or a state away, for that matter. Fill out some forms, get on a list, hire a moving truck; and just go. It’s not that hard.
But what we don’t realize is, it’s not that hard for us. We could do it in a second. A few calls to set up the electric, the cable, the phone and the gas, another call to book the moving truck, and it’s done. Easier than most things we do at our jobs every day.
But the Great Society has raised the denizens of the welfare state to be utterly insulated from the world of decisions. Some escape, sure. Some make it into professional sports, or the entertainment business, until they get in trouble with the law, or with a girl, or with the credit cards, because they were never taught how to make decisions, so they just weren’t ready for it when all of a sudden the American Dream was presented to them at age 21 or 23 or 25, and it turned out to be too much.
Again, it’s not a color thing, or a geographical thing… it’s a welfare thing. The Left has created these subcultures, these awful and inescapable worlds in which everything miserable is provided, all decisions are made for them. Any normal American would leave, but we have engineered these poor wretches to be other than “any normal American.”
The Left calls this compassion. The left wants only their votes, and once that is certain, they perpetuate the scheme. The welfare ghettos of America are the worst of vote farms, worse than any of the animal farms that their animal-rights extremists protest about.
Baby calves are kept in cages, to harvest veal. Geese are forcefed through a tube, to produce liver for pate. Chickens may be raised in an indoor farm, fattened to be plucked and frozen. And all these processes, when done to animals, horrify and sicken the activists of America’s Left, awakening in them a fire for demonstrations and boycotts, a self-righteous anger that screams out for justice.
But so too are poor folks – black and white, Hispanic and Native American – kept in public housing and reservations and ghettos, fed with little WIC cards and kept just barely alive, just enough so they can pull a lever on Election Day.
If they die too soon, in the streets and schoolyards that run red with blood, the Left uses them again, as no more than a talking point for their gun grabs, or their calls for ever higher taxes and ever greater welfare spending.
The Right calls for an end to the welfare state, an end to this practice of imprisoning human beings in a culture of dependency. The Right calls for mandatory sentences to lock up the killers so they can’t kill again; the Right calls for an end to the public housing and lifetime food cards that trap people in a half-life of worthlessness and nihilism.
In the final analysis, the Left cares more about the calf in a cage than their voter in his ghetto. Why should it be otherwise? In their system, especially in Chicago, they can harvest the votes, whether the voters themselves are living or dead.
Copyright 2013 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Customs broker and international trade lecturer. Once president of the Ethnic American Council in the 1980s, and Milwaukee County Republican Party Chairman in the 1990s, he has now been a recovering politician for 15 years. His columns appear weekly in Illinois Review.
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