PART 1 of 2
A world away, as war rages in Iraq, the rampant violence steals the nation’s attention. Yet here at home children are fighting their own battle: To live.
If you think guns, gangs and drugs are symptoms of a strictly inner-city epidemic that isn’t contagious to surrounding communities, think again. Chronic urban ailments such as terminal poverty, long-suffering schools and what appears to be incurable violence may be more visible in certain neighborhoods, but it doesn’t mean that suburban or more upscale locales are completely immune, experts say.
"No one is safe until everyone is safe," says David Cassel of Oak Park, director of the Alliance of Local Service Organizations. "If this is accepted and OK in one community, then there is the chance that it can be accepted and OK in another. Violence spreads."
This stance is more than simply a bleak prognosis by victimized families in dangerous communities. After last school year’s infectious rash of cruelty, brutality and deaths to Chicago area youth, it has become a code red alarm to families everywhere, from the north shore to the southwest suburbs.
"Parents are parents wherever they live," says single mother Lorraine Cruz, principal of Ames Middle School in Logan Square. "What is happening in the inner city with violence, drugs, gangs and guns may be out in the open in the inner city, but is something that is surfacing in suburbs and (mostly white) communities as well."
Another key diagnosis is that too many impressionable suburban youth attempt to mimic or idolize the inner-city gangsta culture by figuratively, and literally, buying into its violence-equals-acceptance attitude.
"They either glorify the violence and want to live the lifestyle, or they become fearful—fearful of the city and the neighborhoods," Cassel says.
Tami Love, an outreach worker and mother of two teens from North Lawndale, says such violence and fatalities are not just urban problems. It’s rippling each year into other rural areas, too. "The results are the same," she says. "Our youth are dying."