The root of urban violence is a sick culture, not guns

BY SHANNON WHITWORTH | Aug. 11, 2014

To end gun violence in our inner cities, we need to stop focusing on the guns. Guns are only a symptom of a larger and more insidious disease. Our existing gun laws apply to everyone, yet it’s only these inner city pockets where the most notorious violence takes place.

Why is that? If guns were the real issue, the entire country — from the inner cities to the suburbs to the countryside — would be awash in the blood of gun violence. The real question is: What kind of person decides to resort to this kind of violence?

Both liberals and conservatives are heartbroken at the stories of death and suffering. That knot of anguish we experience watching a mother grieve over her child is not exclusive to either side of the ideological spectrum. The challenge for us is what, if anything, can be done?

First, I believe, we have to properly identify the problem.

Our inner cities are drowning in a culture that devalues both human life and civilized behavior. A child is shot; a mother falls asleep on her baby and smothers her; men make babies they have no intention of supporting. Whenever we think the bar cannot be lowered any further, some nitwit proves us wrong.

Does this go on in better neighborhoods? Yes, of course, but please spare me the deflections. In the inner city, where people live in such close proximity that they cannot help being affected by one another, much of the community has been infected.

The ultimate problem is not the guns. The problem is the culture. If in some fantasy you could remove all the guns from the Earth, our inner cities would still sink into chaos.

Last month in Inkster, Mich., just outside Detroit, 25-year old Raymone Jackson allegedly murdered 2-year old KaMiya French. Police say Jackson walked up and shot the toddler in the face in broad daylight as she played on a neighbor’s porch. Authorities believe Jackson executed the little girl in front of her father so that he would suffer before Jackson tried to murder him as well.

Do you really believe the gun is the problem here? Let’s face it: When murder is in the heart, an equally horrific outcome is bound to occur even without a gun.

We fiddle with gun bans while Rome continues to burn. Chicago has the toughest gun restrictions in the country, but over the July 4 weekend, 82 people were shot. In Milwaukee, 10-year-old Sierra Guyton died because two fools didn’t care about endangering the lives of children on a school playground while they settled a personal dispute with gunplay.

One of the gunmen had previously been arrested 15 times. The other was back out on the streets after he shot and killed a teenage boy in the inner city more than 10 years ago.

I’m no expert on changing an entire culture, but it seems to me a good first step is to hold people accountable for antisocial behavior. Car thieves don’t start out stealing cars. Someone who fires a gun into a crowd learned long ago not to care.

Whether prison should be the primary means of enforcement is a subject for another column, but making people pay a real price for their bad behavior is a time-tested manner of restoring social order.

Further, morality and faith must return to these inner city communities. Organizational gems like Pearls for Teen Girls in Milwaukee are tremendously effective at getting their charges on the right path, but these programs are too few and far between.

Churches and other faith-based organizations should be empowered to reach into these communities and help people rediscover their souls. A real opportunity also exists for faith-based schools with proven educational track records to plant the seeds of right and wrong in a way our public schools are no longer allowed to do.

Until people accept that it is futile to focus on a bad actor’s weapon of choice, the violence will continue. Guns are only the visible tail of a much larger tiger, and until we tame it, the bullets will continue to fly.

Shannon Whitworth is a Milwaukee-area attorney and a former board member of Pearls for Teen Girls. This column represents his personal opinion.

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