Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Culture of Violence

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine regarding the area north of Howard and how to address the problems that plague the area.  He asserts that many people who complain have no idea how to solve the problems and suggested that in some cases racism underlies the complaining.  This conversation then moved on to the problem of intimidation on Howard St.

I was at the October CAPS meeting and two business owners complained about young men hanging out in front of their storefront and carrying on in a way that is costing them business.  Young women and families often bypassed their business, unwilling to run what they perceive as a gauntlet.  When confronted by one of the owners at least one young bully (how else to describe him?) told the owner to get back inside or else.  The owner is not so easily intimidated, having graduated from Senn and experiencing beatings while there.  His concern is about the loss of revenue due to customers bypassing his business due to this group.  What to do?

My friend asserts that one answer is to simply confront the bullies.   Well yes, that has happened already courtesy of the owner's action.  It was not effective.  My friend would step it up a notch.  In his view, although he didn't say it this way, one fights fire with fire.  If fisticuffs resulted he'd be in the middle of it.

Along the way the conversation moved to the issue of right to carry (RTC) laws.  Illinois, along with Wisconsin and the District of Columbia, does not issue RTC permits to gun owners.  You can obtain a permit/license to have a gun in your home, but you cannot carry it on your person.  The 48 states that have RTC laws vary from "shall" permit (no local discretion in issuing a permit) to "may" permit (local discretion is allowed).  There are also issues of reciprocal recognition of the validity of permits issued in State A when the citizen is traveling through State B.  The jury is basically undecided though trending to the negative as to the efficacy of such laws in deterring crime, an important reason why they are passed in the first place.  My friend supports RTC.

All of this got me thinking about the culture of violence we still find ourselves living in.  My friend, whether he agrees or not, is willing to live with, and support, this culture by his actions.  His way of dealing with potential conflict on the street is to engage in posturing or actions that don't really ratchet down the potential for violence.  Instead, they demonstrate his willingness (and perhaps capability) to meet violence with even more violence.  Aside from questioning the wisdom of putting himself in harm's way one has to ask how this is any different from what we see on a daily basis.  What is the distinction between him and the young bullies in front of the Howard St. business?  He justifies his actions as showing he (a middle-aged white man) is not afraid of them (usually young African-Americans) and thus gaining some modicum of "respect."  He believes that if more people (white and black) would act this way the bullies would stand down.

I agree that the local citizenry needs to be visible throughout NOH and willing to push past those who would rule it through fear.  I don't agree that meeting intimidation with more intimidation is the answer.  A culture of violence is never life affirming or enhancing.  It is an exercise of power over and against, and we are seeing it in action NOH.  Whether through guns, knives, assaults or physical intimidation it manifests itself.  When we stand up to the purveyors of violence and assert the moral high road in the best tradition of Gandhi and King,  we stand a better chance of lowering the temperature.  However, we have to stand up, and not just when the sun is out.  Otherwise, the culture of violence will continue to hold sway NOH as it has elsewhere.  It is up to us to erase it one neighborhood at a time.

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