The War Zone

Everyone loves going to Chicago… (Wikipedia)

Last month, my family had our annual family reunion in northeast Iowa. We decided to have it at least every year because my grandmother and her sisters were the last survivors of their original family. We had a pleasant time…until the Sunday morning, when my mother’s cousin passed away suddenly. He was in failing health for several years. We went ahead and had Sunday dinner and the program, albeit in subdued fashion.

Most of us in Iowa didn’t know our cousins from Chicago very well, and they in return when it came to us. Nevertheless, all of us were talking and playing with each other, and established a good rapport.

I figured, at that time, that a death in a family is sad, but with time, we would appreciate the memories and important milestones that an individual had given to others.

I didn’t expect that I’ll have to do it again a month later.

Wednesday night, my mom called. Our cousin in Chicago learned her grandson was shot dead.

In the chest and in the head.

Sad? No. Upset? No. Pissed? Yes.

Not just pissed because he was dead, at 10 years of age. Someone pulled up in a car or walked towards him, and pulled the trigger. No regard for human life. Pissed off that the violence in Chicago over the past 7 years has turned into a war zone.

But most of all, pissed off at how all of America is glued to an incident in a suburb in St. Louis, Missouri, and no one gives a damn about the carnage in Chicago.

Black-on-black crime has increased over the last several years, but if a cop kills a black guy, all of America is up in arms. Over the 4th of July weekend, 82 people were shot in Chicago. Fifteen fatally.

Not one death was committed by a police officer.

The fifteen who were killed by gunfire were black. The suspects who gunned them down?


…but no one wants to be in a war zone, like the southside of Chicago. (YouTube)

As of Wednesday night, August 21st, there have been 251 deaths by violence in Chicago this year. Out of that 251, 198 victims were black, and out of that 198, 175 were by gunfire.

And there we were, advocating for gun control after Sandy Hook, Columbine, and Tucson. Funny on how people who are not destitute, poor, and not black, will galvanize against gun control.

Chicago? Who cares.

Here’s more: 140 of those 251 deaths were black males between the ages of 11 and 40. It’s humbling to think that I’ll have a better chance of living past 40 in a state like Iowa, but if I was in Chicago, I’m hoping I can get through the day…without hearing a gun go off.

I don’t see Antonio French, Amy K. Nelson, CNN, Fox News, or any media outlets having a panel discussion about these senseless deaths in Chicago, or in the black community as a whole. I don’t see black leaders reaching out to comfort the families of the victims, bodies strewn with bullets and blood.

I don’t see guilt-ridden apologetic liberal whites shaming each other for not being more “understanding” of blacks, while sitting in their nice homes within their white-picket fence neighborhoods.

Nor will you see sites like Anonymous, Vice, or groups like Amnesty International swooping in, digging up information, or providing shelter and support. Or Libertarians whining about fascism and police states.

As far as I’m concerned, all of you I mentioned can go to hell. 

Bomani Jones made an excellent point, after the Donald Sterling fiasco: we need to stop lying about our level of concern for race, and for that matter, domestic violence, sexism, any hot button topic. All of us are discriminatory in nature. Most of have been discriminated, some of us have discriminated others. And not it’s just whites towards blacks. Blacks are just as bad, if not worst.

We would have never cared about Sterling and his act…if not for a taped conversation by his black (yes, she was black!) mistress, who was trying to blackmail him. No one would have said a word about Ray Rice, if not for a video tape of him slugging his wife.

Had TMZ not released these videos, we wouldn’t have been interested in domestic violence and race. We would have been whistling down the street, like nothing happened.

People who act like they care about what’s going on in Ferguson, don’t give a damn about what’s going on down there, because it’s easy to wag your finger and say “we won’t tolerate this racism”, and then pat yourselves on the back for being good people, when in fact, you didn’t do a damn thing to foster change.

I can name off the people I know who are in that category, but I won’t. That’s not important.

When in the hell did we decide to become “conscious” about race? When Michael Brown was shot? Were you ever conscious of it before that happened? Or did a light bulb just went off in your head, and you’re afraid that if you don’t speak out against it, people will label you a racist?

Hypocrites.  All of us.

I had no intention to commenting about the events in St. Louis because there wasn’t anything I need to add to the “noise”. I find it amusing on how everyone is an “expert” on race relations, police brutality, and curfews.

With the death of a cousin, one that I vaguely knew but made an effort to know, this is my way in pointing out the absurdity and ignorance of our society. If it means pissing some friends off, so be it. It would be a pleasure in doing so.

And after this, I’m done with this topic. I’m moving on.

The real racism is more complex and hard to understand, if you’re willing to spend hours reading hard data and analysis reports like housing discrimination, gentrification, and socioeconomic factors.

After listening to Jones’ breakdown in late April, I pulled up Redeye, which has a homicide tracker for the city of Chicago. The Tribune and the Sun-Times have similar site, chronicling the stories of victims. Since 2007, there has been 3, 564 murders in Chicago. African-Americans make up 74.1% of those deaths.

There isn’t an outcry in the media? Why?  Because it’s not the sensationalized, ratings-grabber that television is providing for us from a suburb in St. Louis.

Hypocrites.  All of us.

Acting like we care about one big thing, and ignoring the real serious issues that has a far major impact for everyone.

This isn’t just about race.  It’s economics, class, and survival.

The rules of Darwin.

The middle class is dead. No, it’s not coming back. The President and elected officials are not going to save it.

It’s the “haves” versus the “have-nots”.

Most of my Des Moines friends…got the “haves”. Me? I’m barely hanging on as a “have-not”. And do you think that most of them care? Privately, I believe they don’t, but they’ll give you that “empathetic” look to make you feel better.

“As long as it’s not me” is their motto.

That’s what the southside of Chicago is right now…a war zone and an example of what happens when the socioeconomic balance is out-of-whack: people fighting for survival, as everyone else gets on the freeway, drive from their quaint homes in the suburbs or Beaverdale, to work and back, without having to drive through the Drake or River Bend neighborhoods.

It’s why young professionals are against new downtown housing having rent-control pricing. “We don’t want poor people living next door to us upwardly mobile well-to-do successful people.” It’s why people who are trying to find a better life and livelihood for the families are denied a chance to move into a better neighborhood and home, and are regulated into remaining in an area where there is no hope and no promise for anyone.

We got a problem…and we continue to ignore it.

And while you’re ignoring it and watching to see if another tear gas gets tossed into the street…

…I have to remember and grieve for a cousin I hardly knew, and was hoping to get to know more about.

Have fun.


Suicides Are Not “Valiant”

In some way, we continue to look at suicide as “someone else’s” problem.

Until everyone is affected by it.  There are too many angles to deconstruct the suicide of former NFL All-Pro lineman Junior Seau for me to write about.

As someone who has battled depression and had suicidal tendencies a decade ago, I feel that I need to address several sub-topics within this story.

  • The medical research groups that were calling Seau’s family, hours after his death, requesting to examine his brain for possible concussion damage due to playing football, frankly, was unnerving to me.  His family is grieving, and yet researchers were lining up to be the first to examine his brain for any damage.

I understand the importance of science and research, but they couldn’t wait for a few days?  That was the most disturbing sidenote of this story to me.

  • For those who have already concluded that Seau’s suicide was linked to the concussions he had sustained while playing, stop it.  We don’t know if it was brain damage or not…at this point.  Not all football players commit suicide because of brain damage.  For that matter, how many Americans have suffered concussion-like symptoms and committed suicide?

Kenny McKinley didn’t take his own life because of brain damage.  He was depressed.  Gregg Doyel reaffirmed, to a point in his column Friday evening, what I wrote after McKinley’s death:  you are not less of a man if you seek help.  Did Junior Seau seek help?  If he did, was it effective?  If he didn’t, what was his reasons?  We will never know that.  Making the assumption that getting whacked in the head too many times led him to kill himself seems to be the easy thing to conclude.

And it shouldn’t. There are too many questions that has no answers to in respects to the death of Junior Seau.

  • Which leads me to something that has become very disturbing pattern:  committing suicide for the noble cause of medicine.  The thought that Seau would end his life so that his brain can be examined is borderline insane, in my opinion.  Then I thought of former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson.  What would make a person end their life in the name of medical research?  It feels, to me, like a selfish act.  It’s a harsh way of saying it, but what Duerson did, was selfish.

He’ll never know what the results are.  His family will, albeit still suffering over his decision, which made no sense in the first place.

No research group or anyone conducting a study is that desperate for someone to kill themselves, so they can donate a part of their body for research.

No other person, athlete or not, commits suicide to help medical research.  They end their lives because they have either given up on life, depressed and can’t find a way to end the mental pain, or worse, to end physical pain, a la, mercy killing, that Dr. Jack Kevorkian became a household name for.

In an Associated Press story on Friday, former New Orleans Saints Kyle Turley was quoted in the following:

“Somewhere, the wires got crossed and he unfortunately decided to end his life.  But in his last moment — and I will without a doubt believe this until the day I  die — Junior Seau ended his life in a valiant way.”

– Kyle Turley, as reported by AP writer Paul Newberry

I call bullshit on Turley.  No one dies valiantly by suicide.  That is sick, and, more importantly, the most selfish statement I have ever heard.  Turley doesn’t get it.  He will never get it.  I know he has had dealt with personal and health issues, but this is a slap in the face to the families and friends of people who have taken their own lives.

And no, Dave Duerson didn’t make it easy to understand the “torture” he was going through.  Duerson and Seau made it harder to understand…and painful for those around them.

Hey Kyle, tell the families you have insulted, to their faces, that their loved ones’ suicide was a “valiant” gesture.

Junior Seau, Duerson, and others who have ended their lives are not valiant.

It’s senseless and a waste.  If Duerson was concerned about possible brain damage he sustained during his playing days, there were other ways to help with the research.

Putting a gun to your chest shouldn’t be one of them.  Ever.

  • The ever-increasing lawsuits that former players are filing against the NFL has watered down the authenticity of the concussion issue.  Sadly, some of them are in it for a money grab, which makes it difficult for those who may have a legitimate case.  For those who do have a legitimate reason, they will have a harder time trying to prove their case.

It’s because they chose to play football.  No one forced them to.  They knew the risks of playing including sustaining injuries that would linger after their careers were over.  That is the cold-blooded truth, even if we choose to deny it.

If I chose to smoke and I read the Surgeon General’s warning on the cigarette pack, and I light up anyway, how hypocritical is it for me to sue the tobacco industry for something I was warned not to do, but I did it anyway?

So, this is as far as I’ll go on this subject for now.  I can’t say this enough to men who are contemplating suicide:  you are not less of man if you seek help.  Stop acting like you can handle this yourself.  Call someone, get help.  I did 10 years ago.

Why am I still here and not six feet under?  Because I didn’t want to miss family event or something a friend did.  I didn’t want to miss history take place.  I didn’t want to miss something that could give me hope.

That last sentence is what keeps me going each day.  Don’t be a selfish valiant hero.

An Imperfect Christmas

The Christmas message this morning at St. John’s Lutheran was simple and understandable:  “there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ Christmas.” Holiday movies such as The Ref, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Miracle on 34th Streettries to convey this statement, but in real life, if it isn’t a “perfect” Christmas, it’s a failure.

The holiday season, whether it’s Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Christmas, isn’t always a joyous time of year.  It’s a painful, depressing, and sad.  Someone is unemployed, mourning a loss, or experienced a life event that has affected them greatly.

I feel that this entry from last November is an appropriate one to re-post as a reminder that if things are going well for you, but not for someone you know who’s having a rough time, the best you can do is to be there for them when they need it.

Holiday Blues

Thanksgiving and Christmas are meant to be a time of celebration, family, and joyous fun.  For some, the holiday season can be melancholy or sad, as loved ones are far away from home, or have passed on.  Not since the Great Depression has there been so much uncertainty and worry heading into the holiday season in respects to the economic and employment situation.

Young professionals are not immune to this.  For many, we’ve been through this before and we have become veterans at it.  For a few, this might be their first time they have been let go.  They’re scared, nervous, and confused about what they should do next in their lives.

For the unemployed veterans, this is a chance to reinvent themselves and find the careers than best fit their personality, skills, and abilities.  A few others will utilize their networking channels for new leads and to ask their colleagues about how they were able to segue into a career they enjoy.  The newbies will, unfortunately, have the perception that “it’s the end of the world” or the “I failed” look in their eyes.  Much like our grandparents and parents, those of us who are fortunate should not be afraid to reach out to those who are out seeking for work again.

“How can I do that?” you say?  Simple.  Call them up, ask them how they are doing.  Encourage them to keep the daily routines that they had before being let-go.  Give them ideas that would stimulate them to look at other ways to find or even create a job.  The most important thing you can do is listen.  Be a sounding board for them.  Don’t answer all of their questions, let them vent and talk about it.

The shame of being unemployed should not be so drastic, but to a few, it’s something they have never encountered in their lives.  There is no formal manual to handle unemployment and the mental, emotional, and physical aspects of it.  The Des Moines Register recently reported that the suicide rates have increased from 331 in 2007 to 376 in 2008.  It’s imperative that we continue to connect with our peers during this holiday season.  The unemployed may smile and say things are okay right now, but inside, the pain can be unbearable and despondent.

Invite them to dinner, encourage them to talk about it and give them support.  It will makes us humble and appreciative for what we have in our lives and in turn receive the same gesture when we’re having a difficult period in our lives.

The following song from Marvin Gaye, titled “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” symbolizes the feeling of despondence and the fight to survive.