harambee

This past Saturday Harambee, a 400-pound silverback gorilla, was killed at the Cincinnati zoo. Over the same weekend 27 people were shot, within walking distance from where I’m currently staying on Chicago’s westside. I knew all about Harambee but absolutely nothing of those 27 shootings because they occurred across an imaginary line of gentrification, where even the city streets appear to be maintained radically different. I’ve heard much about how Harambee’s life could have been spared, even as he violently dragged a child around his enclosure. But not much has been said about how we could have saved 27 of my neighbors and that’s the discussion which should be prioritized. I guess they and their shooters are just considered, ironically, “animals.”

How 27 people could be shot minutes (on foot) from my door and I be unaware is troubling. It is evidence that geographical distance isn’t necessary for a group of people to be invisible. Even in cities where density is the norm, racial and economic segregation, even by block, can render realities close to us completely unknown. Out of sight is to be out of mind. Yet even from states away, I could not escape the saga of Harambee. Yes, the story of a gorilla dragging a child and being shot is not as typical as a shooting on the westside of Chicago but that cannot fully explain the difference. Indeed, heroin use is very typical in America but when whites became the victims, it was suddenly newsworthy. Race matters and because it does, my 27 neighbors can be regarded with apathy or altogether ignored in ways that Harambee is not; even as Harambee presented clear danger to a child, the discussion of how he could have been saved is a hot topic.

As many opine on how Harambee could have been saved, we should do the same for those 27 victims of gun violence, all a matter of blocks from my front door. Ultimately, what could have prevented them from being shot is the question. More cops? Of the ten most populated U.S cities, Chicago has more sworn officers per 1,000 residents than any city. We must dig deeper into root causes. The reality is gainfully employed people don’t shoot, as a rule. In her groundbreaking book “The New Jim Crow,” Ohio State law scholar Michelle Alexander argues that joblessness–and not race–is the greatest corollary to violent crime. In Chicago, 47% of black men ages 20-24 are out of work and school. Of the five most populous American cities, Chicago has the highest black unemployment rate. When jobs are scarce, the illegal drug industry is always hiring and as former Maryland drug enforcement cop Neill Franklin pointed out, the vast majority of shootings in cities are related to the drug trade.

Those 27 could have been spared from gun violence. To save others in the future, joblessness and its twin of hopelessness must be conquered. Doing so will be on us as black people, primarily. After all, America has displayed a greater interest in the death of a gorilla than residents of Chicago’s westside. We must look for practical solutions to provide jobs in neighborhoods where only the corners are hiring. For example, there are several black owned companies looking for franchisors and distributors to help grow their footprint in Chicago and everywhere else, for that matter. Freedom Paper Company (manufacturer of bathroom tissue and other paper products) and True Products (manufacturer of laundry detergent) are two such companies. We must begin investing in our own success stories and featuring our young people in them. Harambee clearly has people across the country who are concerned about his life. It’s time for us to take radical actions to invest in and save our own.

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