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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, July 30, 2007


Promises, Promises


“Our goal is to get a pro-life president,”
-Kim Lehman of the Iowa Right to Life Committee

Hey, Ms. Lehman... You got your wish almost seven years ago. So how goes the pro-life / anti-choice movement these days anyway?

The Pro-life movement, or anti-choice as some might call it, has had some victories as of late with states setting some restrictions on abortion and the Supreme Court upholding those decisions. But have they gotten what they really wanted? With statements such as Ms. Lehman's above, the answer is an obvious "No:.

The "Right to Lifers" in this country who cheered so loudly when one of their own was elected to the White House should be looking towards 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and be asking "Why?" Why haven't the Bushies thrown together legislation to restrict abortions nationally? Why hasn't the Republican party, so entrenched in the "Bible Belt" states banned abortions totally in those states which they control? Why hasn't President Bush made it his priority to get a Pro-Life / anti-abortion amendment into the works?

Surely all one has to do is look at an electoral map of the United States from 2004 to realize that pushing through a pro-life amendment in all of those Red Areas would have been easy, Right? So what's the problem? Why do those such as Ms. Lehman still pine for a candidate that supports her point of view?

In other words (as the Bushies enjoy saying so much), what's the hold up, "W"?

Today, the "pro-lifers" (as in taking the choice away from women, not anti-death penalty - In that case, death is "OK!") are looking at the top two GOP candidates who either support a woman's right to choose or have in the very, very recent past. So far, Rudy Giuliani has stated that he is still pro-choice, but Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, has said he's seen the light and changed his mind.

Why are the Republicans getting a pass from their party loyalists? Maybe the only real pro-life legislation passed by any GOP Congress - the Terri Schiavo law - was enough for them. Remember that one boys and girls? That was a law enacted for a brain-dead woman who had no chance of recovery. In order to sign that bill into law, President Bush flew back to DC from one of his numerous vacations "cutting switch grass" in Crawford, Texas. He considered it a priority. Of course, when Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf Coast and thousands were trapped in New Orleans, he took a more cautious approach, stayed on vacation and attended Senator John McCain's (REPUBLICAN-AZ) birthday party.

When the Democrats during the Bill Clinton years said they wanted to make life better for those women who get pregnant so keeping the child would be their choice rather than abortion; when Democrats come out and said they want to make abortions "safe, legal and rare", they were ridiculed. The Republicans came out and said "Elect us and we'll make sure all babies are born and we'll throw abortion doctors into jail." What happened and why are they getting a pass?

The Democrats are in favor of some sort of National Health Care system where everyone is covered. That would include pregnant women as well. Perhaps if a pregnant woman could afford to have her baby, she would have that baby rather than abort it. Why haven't the Republicans come up with a way for that to happen?

Let's face it, the GOP isn't the "Right to Life" party - They're the "Right to talk about Life, but do nothing towards that end" party.

There can be no doubt that the GOP is a party using their Religious Right base to stay in, or capture power. And in the end, it's just the REAL Bush "base" of "haves and have mores" that reap the benefits. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if some of those GOP electors go home at night and wonder to themselves how they're still in office; how they're still keeping their "fake-base" on the line without ever giving them what they want.

Perhaps it's because if they ever did make abortion illegal, these people would realize that they have nothing else to offer.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

The weekend of July 20th, 37 people were shot in Philadelphia. Seven of them died.

The dramatic numbers brought out–you’ll pardon the expression–all the big guns. The Mayor, the Police Commissioner, the District Attorney. Even Governor Rendell came down from Harrisburg for a collective hand-wringing event to discuss our “city in crisis.”

Philadelphia is officially the most murderous big city in America. Mayor Street keeps telling reporters that it isn’t (but it is) and that crime is going up everywhere (but it isn’t). The murder rate is already up from last year and 2006 was the most murderous year in a decade.

Meanwhile, over at the big Target opening (again, no pun intended), mayoral candidate Michael Nutter was saying that the stats from the previous weekend were like stats from Iraq. And he’s right. But as with Iraq, the numbers themselves don’t tell the whole story.

Everyone has an opinion on the violence in Philadelphia. Opinion and facts are very different things, however.

Here’s the primary fact that no one wants to address in Philadelphia: If you don’t have a gun, you can’t shoot anyone.

I don’t own a gun. In Philadelphia I could own literally dozens of guns. And then I could sell them to criminals or teenagers or maybe just rent them out over a weekend. That’s what happens in Philadelphia, because Philadelphia has more guns than any other city in America. Five times the guns New York City has–even though New York City is three times the size of Philadelphia. And that’s the *legal* guns.

I don’t believe in killing, so I don’t have a gun. I don’t think anyone else should have one either.

This is where the Second Amendment freaks start jumping up and down and proclaiming that the Founders of the nation wanted us all to have guns, that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

Well, actually, people *with guns* kill people and the Framers of the Constitution had no conception of handguns and AK 47s. The Second Amendment is about protecting ourselves from rogue governments–you know, like the Bush Administration. It’s not about killing your next door neighbor because their kids are always on your lawn.

And let’s face it: the men doing the killing in Philadelphia don’t know anything about the Second Amendment. For them it’s all about the power and the control.
Guns have only one purpose: to kill. If you have one, you will eventually kill someone or something with it. That’s statistical fact.

Another fact that no one wants to address about the violence in Philadelphia is harder to discuss, because it makes people even more upset than the Second Amendment argument. Almost all the gun violence in Philadelphia is black men killing other black men. Most of the victims are already criminals. In fact, according to the Police Department’s own statistics, two-thirds of the victims of gun violence in Philadelphia had previously been arrested. Young black men–25 years old and under–are statistically the most likely to commit murder in this city. They are also the most likely to be the victims of murder.

There are other unsettling facts about gun violence in Philadelphia. The politically correct among us may talk about the violence as if it’s pandemic in the city as a whole, but it isn’t. There are four neighborhoods that are infested with guns. There the killing is most frequent: North Philly, Germantown, West Philly and Southwest Philly. Nobody’s shooting anyone in Society Hill or Chestnut Hill, Bella Vista or Queen Village or the Italian Market. The hot spots are poor neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color where the guns are plentiful and where arguments are answered with a hail of bullets, which is how all of the victims of that murderous weekend died–in arguments answered with guns.

Of course there are other victims, the truly innocent victims, the people without guns who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are the little kids playing on the sidewalk or the women sitting on their front steps or the folks just walking down the street who get in the way of gangs and drug dealers who don’t care who they kill. There are the occasional spousal-abuse murders. There are shopkeepers–Asian and Latino, mostly–who get murdered for a few bucks. But primarily the killing is being done by young black men to other young black men.

Maybe if it were young white men killing each other we’d all feel able to state the obvious: No one is taking charge of nor appears to care about the young men in these communities except the drug dealers and gang leaders and that’s why these young men are turning to violence and crime.

Whenever another young man gets shot and killed, a group of his relatives cries for the cameras and says he was really a good kid and he shouldn’t have died this way. But look a little closer and the good kid has been arrested time and again, ran with a gang or hung out with criminals (yes, drug dealers are criminals, no matter what the rap songs say). The “good kid” was under 21 and had an illegal gun. The “good kid” was a criminal himself.

This is not to say that *anyone* deserves to die at the other end of a barrage of bullets. No one does. But a couple thousand young black men are being shot–and are shooting–other young black men in Philadelphia every year and a few hundred of them are dying. Others are being paralyzed. One of the murder victims that weekend–a teenager–was already in a wheelchair from a previous shooting.

There are simple things we can do to begin to end the violence in Philadelphia–if we want to end it–and I am far from convinced that a majority of Philadelphians are concerned about this, despite all the media attention our so-called crisis gets.

The reason I remain unconvinced is because I actually talk to people about this issue. I have spoken on several panels in the past few months about it. I have written about it extensively. I have talked to women who have lost sons to the violence. I have talked to clergy, to community leaders, to gun dealers, to victims.

Middle-class whites and blacks see it as a ghetto problem. Some will come right out and say that, others will use euphemisms like “urban.”

People in the communities where the violence keeps happening blame the police, as they did after the shoot-out weekend. The police don’t come fast enough or at all, they assert.

Police blame the lack of witnesses. One shooting in which four people were killed took place in a crowded bar. Yet no one saw anything. The “don’t snitch” t-shirts say it all.

Philadelphia is *not* a city in crisis. We have a few neighborhoods in crisis, not a city. But for the crises in those neighborhoods to abate, a collective effort must be made to stop the violence. And that *will* take the whole city.

That effort begins with people taking responsibility–parents, communities, police, city government. Having the Governor, Mayor, D.A. and Police Commissioner sit down for a collective hand-wringing doesn’t do anything. They’ve all said the same things for years. This problem actually cannot be fixed from the top down. This problem has to be fixed starting in the homes where the killers are raised.

Too harsh? Hardly. If you don’t want your son to end up in the morgue or in prison, take responsibility for him. Don’t let him run the streets, don’t let him have access to guns. Know who your kids are hanging out with. Be less concerned about being your child’s friend and more concerned with being his parent. Be present. Kids need discipline and direction as well as love and concern. It’s the combination that makes them feel safe and secure.

Don’t let your kids glorify criminal behavior. Morality really does matter. Set some standards in your household. If your son is playing “Grand Theft Auto” all day to the tune of gansta rap, his perspective on what’s right and wrong is going to get skewed. Parents set the standards for their children; don’t leave it up to X-box and music videos. Take control.

The community plays a role in every murder that happens in it. How can a murder happen in front of 30 people and no one is a witness? How would you feel if it were someone you loved who was murdered and no one said anything and the murderer was left free to kill again?

But it isn’t just the cowardly refusal to step up when murders happen. It’s also the cowardice of men who run out on their sons, leaving them to be raised by over-worked single mothers and whatever criminal takes them under his wing. I’m certainly not the first to say this: Where are the black men to mentor black youth away from violence, to present alternatives?

There are some stalwart men doing that work to safe the lives of young black men–but it’s a small group given the huge number of kids who are in desperate need of help and intervention, kids who are a heartbeat away from taking or giving a bullet.

The police need to befriend the communities that need them most. Philadelphia has a dark history when it comes to police and communities of color. There’s a reason people distrust the police. And yet who else can people turn to when violence strikes?

If we truly want to stop the killing in Philadelphia, then we have to stop the killers. We have to stop breeding them and grooming them and letting them run free to kill again or train others to kill. None of us is born knowing how to shoot a gun; someone has to teach us. None of us is born wanting to kill; we have to be taught to do that.

Every day in my neighborhood I see groups of young black men just hanging out–on street corners, on stoops of abandoned houses. What are they doing there? Why aren’t they in school or at work? What are we doing to get these kids and young men off the streets and onto a path that leads them somewhere other than the morgue, a wheelchair or prison?

Philadelphia isn’t in crisis, but some of our communities are. And when there’s a crisis, everyone needs to rally around to help fix the problem so it doesn’t get worse.

Don’t know what to do? Become a mentor. The list at Big Brothers for boys waiting for mentors is more than a year long. That’s the difference between being set on the right path and ending up dead in the streets.

We need responsible men of all colors who care about the future of black youth in Philadelphia to step up and take responsibility for what is happening to black boys in this city. If a boy doesn’t have a father or a male relative who isn’t in prison or on drugs, how is he supposed to know there are other options? Boys seek male role models. If the only men they can find are gang leaders and drug dealers and pimps, what future can they hope for?

You may not live in a neighborhood in crisis, but this is your city and it needs your help. Can we really sit back and watch young black men killing each other and look the other way?

The answer is we can’t and we mustn’t. The bloodshed *is* extreme, it *is* like a war zone in some neighborhoods. But the answers don’t lie at City Hall, they lie with us. If you could save one life, wouldn’t you do it? If we want to stop the killing, we have to stop breeding killers. It’s just that simple.

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-Noah Greenberg