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Gerson: Ending the Chicago massacre will require miracles of mercy


On the same day as the Parkland school shooting, I found myself on the south side of Chicago, talking with the victims and perpetrators of a different, continuing massacre.

At the optimistically named Youth Peace Center of Roseland, M. told me of being shot six times in the back and head. “Until you lay in your own blood,” he said, “you can’t understand.” His friend D. has three bullet scars. “We was in a war,” he explained, “just like Iraq.” Not far away, the staff and participants at IMAN (Inner-City Muslim Action Network) were mourning the recent death of Steven Ward, who took part in the violence-prevention program. On his way home from taking his kids to a trampoline park, while stopped at the traffic light, Ward was executed in front of his family.

In the local newspapers, killings such as these rate a few paragraphs as “another gang-related homicide.” This does little to portray the horrifying reality: There are war zones within the borders of America. Though the numbers are recently down a bit, Chicago had more than 650 murders in 2017. Some young men take precautions appropriate to Beirut, circling their home block three or four times in search of any person or car that is out of place, before they will park. Others must be smuggled out of the city to avoid revenge killings.

Activists working with gang members describe a perfect storm of unintended consequences. The tearing down of Chicago’s high-rise, public housing monstrosities caused the diffusion of gang problems into other neighborhoods. Aggressive policing that put many gang leaders in prison also removed a source of structure in neighborhoods—leaving smaller groups (sometimes of three or four) engaged in chaotic, block-by-block warfare.

In this environment, relatively minor provocations—trash talk by a rap music star, social media disrespect, a stolen watch—can result in years of murder and revenge.

What can be done? Programs such as BAM (Becoming a Man) employ a form of group therapy to keep young men from going off track. During the session I attended at Phillips High School, students took turns sharing their personal struggles, building a kind of brotherhood. Role-playing is used to encourage values such as integrity, accountability and respect for women. And there is good preliminary evidence that participation in BAM significantly reduces violent crime and arrest.

But reducing gang violence also requires someone to enter the most damaged lives. At the Youth Peace center, young men leaving gang life are not only matched with jobs but with life coaches who take a daily interest in their success. At IMAN, older mentors are matched with young men, providing a father figure in largely fatherless lives. There is a waiting list to enter the program.

Both efforts are now getting serious help from an effort called Chicago CRED (Creating Real Economic Destiny), led by former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. With deep roots in Chicago, Duncan has tried to bring greater resources and a sense of urgency to the prevention of violence, in which progress is measured life by life. “This is not a second chance,” Duncan told me. “They didn’t have a first chance.”

The young men I met were disarmingly transparent and reflective. D. talked of having trouble getting up at 8 a.m. for work and learning it was not a good idea to “walk into jobs tweaking” (while high on drugs). All of the participants I met reported some rock-bottom moment when the downward trajectory of their lives became unacceptable. “My son is 4 months old,” M. told me. “If I had died, my kids wouldn’t know me. All they would have is a picture.”

Programs like these succeed by gathering a community in which young men from different gangs don’t view each other as “Ops” but as brothers. The only force sufficient to defeat retaliation is reconciliation. Which can be remarkable to witness.

When Duncan was young, his friend—basketball star Ben Wilson—was murdered by a 16-year-old named Billy Moore. “I hated him all my life,” Duncan told me. After serving almost 20 years in prison, Moore is now one of the life coaches at IMAN, working with Duncan to reclaim young lives.

A few months ago, Moore’s only son was murdered—shot 16 times. “If the young men who shot my son come through those doors,” Moore told me, “I would help them. In order to ask for forgiveness, I must extend forgiveness.”

Good public policy can promote order and justice. But ending the Chicago massacre will require miracles of mercy.

Guest Views: Olympics are reminder of high stakes in Korean Peninsula

One triumph at the Winter Olympics that’s worth celebrating is South Korea’s success convincing the United States to engage in talks with North Korea.

This may only delay stronger sanctions but it could dial down the scary, macho rhetoric that’s put the region on edge. It’s always better to talk with adversaries rather than tweet about them.

Meanwhile people viewing the games are seeing not only great athletes but also glimpses of people whose lives could be in grave danger if tensions with North Korea escalate into a second Korean War.

Even those tuning in just for sports might end up with a better understanding of South Korea, which would suffer greatly if the U.S. ever used military force in an attempt to halt North Korea’s nuclear-weapons development.

The Olympic opening ceremony was held in Pyeongchang’s 35,000 seat stadium. At least that many Koreans could be obliterated if President Donald Trump follows through on past threats against North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Crackling tension between the mercurial leaders heightens the games’ drama, as does host country South Korea’s efforts to turn down the heat and avoid a conflagration.

North Korea poses a serious danger and rattles its sabers with recent nuclear and missile-launch tests. Despite Trump’s ominous rhetoric, the U.S. must avoid military action. Start with talks, and be prepared to pursue stricter sanctions and improved statecraft.

The U.S. must also come to terms with the fact that North Korea is now a nuclear power and consider finding ways to limit, rather than eliminate, that threat. Even if the threat could be eliminated with force, that may be a Pyrrhic victory.

War would create a distraction from the federal Russia probe. But it would also jeopardize both the Korean Peninsula and the U.S., which is piling on debt, struggling to defend its democracy against Russian meddling, estranging allies and unable to extricate itself from wars in the Middle East.

Attacking North Korea likely would provoke a counterattack by the rogue nation that has artillery aimed at Seoul, a metropolitan area with 25 million residents, and missiles that can reach the U.S.

That threat reduces options to slow or halt North Korea’s weapons development.

Sanctions haven’t worked yet, partly because of China’s uneven support. If talks aren’t fruitful, sanctions should be strengthened and given more time.

Despite Trump’s bluster, that may be the primary plan. Vice President Mike Pence earlier this month said the U.S. will soon announce “the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever.”

Then, after Pence met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Olympics, the U.S. indicated it was open to preliminary talks with North Korea.

Moon has a “strong incentive to lower the atmospheric tensions a bit,” which would make it more difficult for the U.S. to consider using military force, said David Bachman, Henry M. Jackson professor of international studies at the University of Washington.

“On the Korean Peninsula both the north and the south are trying to make it seem less fraught than it is, but clearly for the North Koreans, it’s just buying time,” he said.

Talking is a start. But the U.S. will probably still need to increase sanctions and pressure on other countries to enforce them.

Meanwhile, the Pyeongchang Olympics offer glimpses of what’s at stake.

—The Seattle Times

Your Views: Concerned about the future of Milton's pool

I am devastated to hear that there is a possibility that the Milton High School pool might be closing. With the referendum failing twice, there is minimal money for the school to use for all the facility issues.

For our family, the pool has been a huge connection to the community. We just moved to Milton three years ago. My husband and I began swimming at the pool and met others with similar interests in the community. Our daughter joined the Milton Marlin Rec Swim team shortly after starting at her new school and quickly made great friends. Our son took swim lessons, which if weren’t offered in Milton, he would not have had that opportunity. He then decided joined the Milton Rec Swim Team. He is pretty quiet (initially), but he has made many friends and has become an even stronger swimmer.

The pool is invaluable to the community. It hosts birthday parties, open-swim on days the children have off school, swim lessons, third-grade swim, phy ed, high-school swim, lap swim for competitive swimmers and for community members with mobility issues and arthritis. It would be extremely difficult for many community members and families to travel to surrounding communities for these activities. The social, physical and safety benefits that the pool provides is priceless. As a community, we need to rally behind school funding to be directed towards making the pool safe for all of us to enjoy.