28 January 2013

Shirley Chambers lost all four of her children to gunfire. In case you didn’t see  the story on the news this weekend, the Chicago mother’s last remaining baby, her 34-year old son, Ronnie, was killed over the weekend while sitting in a car. He had three kids of his own.

Chambers lost her first child, 18-year old Carlos Chambers, in 1995. Then 15-year old LaToya Chambers was killed in 2000. A few weeks later, Jerome Chambers, 23, was shot and killed, according to DNAinfo.com, a local Chicago website that covered the story in far more detail than AP, ABC, and Huffington Post, where I first read about it. 

Shirley Chambers lives near Cabrini Green. That will be a familiar name to anyone who has lived in Chicago, as I did for two years in the 1980s.  When I lived in the Windy City, it was the only housing project on the North Side (all the rest were on the far rougher South Side).  Cabrini Green was notorious for gang violence and horrible living conditions. The multiple high rises that housed more than 10,000 people were all torn down by 2011. I was scared to even go by it in a taxi. 

In this video, Shirley seems so calm as she asks for help finding Ronnie’s killer. After repeated viewing, it looked more like she wasn’t so much placid as simply hollowed out and heartbroken, exhausted from having given up on her children having the chance to fulfill any of the normal dreams that all parents wish for their kids.

I grew up in a solidly middle class suburban neighborhood. Honestly, the biggest crime I remember happening to any of us kids was when a flasher was spotted in the park that we walked through on our way home from elementary school. When I was 15, I was thinking about getting my driver’s permit, not worrying about getting gunned down like LaToya. When I was 18, I was a freshman in college, testing my own independence, not dodging bullets.

The thought of living in the kind of war zone that makes it possible for all four of your children to be murdered isn't comprehensible. That doesn't even happen in world wars. I saw "Saving Private Ryan." The army stepped in and intervened before one family suffered so great a loss...and yet when it happens  in a low-income project, people just shake their heads and go on.

It’s so easy to live lives disconnected to anyone outside of our immediate circles and not feel their humanity as strongly as we feel our own. I don’t think I understood when I started this blog 28 days ago that I needed to break down that feeling.  Through my work as a board member of Liberty Hill Foundation, an organization that fights for social, LGBT, and environmental justice in Los Angeles, I’ve seen parts of this city that I’d never even heard of before and met people that I would have otherwise never crossed paths with. I felt like some of the barriers were coming down inside of me. But when I watched Shirley’s video and read her story, I still wanted to look for differences instead of similarities, as if that would help me make sense of these unbearable tragedies.  As horrific as her losses are, there’s part of me that said, “Oh, gang violence...” as if that somehow made her pain any less severe than a mother who loses a child in Westport, Conn., or Beverly Hills or was a reasonable, acceptable explanation.   And I don’t like that I feel that way. 

Some problems feel like it doesn’t matter how much money we throw at them, it’s never going to be enough to make a dent. The endless cycle of gang violence and poverty and the inability to provide an effective way out for innocent people caught in that trap feels like one of those problems. But it just can’t be, can it? 

Today’s $10 goes to Cure Violence, an NGO that works at mediating gang conflicts and treating violence like the rampant disease it is in certain cities across the country. 

Jan. 28: Cure Violence: http://cureviolence.org/

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