Sunday, August 12, 2018

Counting The Children

The typewriter sat like a lonely sentry under the window to nowhere with a single page of newsprint on the roll. That day, there was one name with age and address typed across the paper. It was the basic identification of the latest recorded homicide victim in the "Murder City." Detroit had earned that title in the 1970's and early 1980's by leading the nation in reported annual murders.

It was 1977, and I was in the press room at Detroit Police Headquarters, 1300 Beaubien Street back in the day. This was my junior year as an electronic journalism student at Wayne State University. Public Affairs Reporting put me in the cop house for three weeks, the city county building for three more and the courts for the balance. I covered colorful debates at Detroit's legendary city council, murder trials where defendants stared down witnesses, and I wrote a feature piece on a remarkably talented police artist who recreated the faces of suspects. Our assignment was to turn in several stories each week for the entire term. The best lessons were learned on the beat.

And if you were in the press room at police headquarters, even if you were just a student, you were expected to type and record the identity of any victim, when public information officer, Sargent Fred Williams, hustled in with the info. The local reporters were sharing duty of tallying the list of the dead, to accurately tabulate a total.

This week, I heard from two relatives who live in Detroit asking me about the insane spike in shootings in Chicago, where last week 66 people were shot and 12 killed. My wife and I live in the Windy City now. So do our two sons, our daughter-in-law who is expecting, and our darling granddaughter. Chicago had 750 murders in 2016 and is awaiting official FBI totals from 2017. Truth is, Baltimore and Detroit are still considered statistically more murderous, despite lower totals, because their populations are smaller. They report more murders per 100,000 than Chicago, Philadelphia, Nashville, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Houston and New York City. But when 66 people are shot in a week, a city instantly jumps to the front of the headlines.

Why are we so violent, with so many more gun killings than other industrialized nations? That would take too many chapters and interviews to answer journalistically. But I can scratch the surface on something just as important: the impact this kind of violence has on the next generation.

I met a man recently who mentors in one of the most violent communities in the nation, on Chicago's South Side. He grew up in the neighborhood where he now serves. He inspires me because he hasn't forgotten his community, now that his life is better. And he said something that has been haunting me.

Imagine for a moment you are a child. You're in middle school or high school. You see five or six kids murdered in your community each year. If you lived in the suburbs, you'd receive special counseling if just one kid were shot in your neighborhood. But not in this one. You grow up wondering if you'll make it to see your thirtieth birthday.

These at-risk kids don't choose to live where they do. And their mentor is doing his best to guide them through the maze of jeopardy. What can we do to help?

Jesus said: "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them: for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14)

While we're counting the number of lives lost to violence, we need to include those who live on, wounded by the trauma. Heaven knows we need to save them, no matter where they live.

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