My wife is from Norway, and before she left that country in 1978 to attend graduate school in the Chicago area (Wheaton), one of her friends gave her a small scouts’ knife, so she could protect herself from all the violence in Chicago. He even made a machine-gun sound. He had Al Capone and company in mind—although it’s not clear to me how a little knife would help.
In short, Chicago has had a worldwide reputation of violence for decades—sometimes being worse than others. Now seems to be a bad time again (although not as bad as previous eras).
Writer Don Babwin notes, “Chicago has averaged about 450 homicides a year since 2005, which is a dramatic drop from the roughly 900 homicides the city was experiencing annually in the early 1990s” (Associated Press, July 9, 2012).
Yet murders in Chicago this year are up about 38 percent from last year.
Everyone expresses concern—from the mayor to those promoting tourism in the Windy City. Mayor Rahm Emanuel addressed the issue. He said that gangs “will not find shelter in the city of Chicago.”
He also observed, “We’ve got two gangbangers, one standing next to a kid. Get away from that kid. Take your stuff away to the alley. Don’t touch the children of the city of Chicago. Don’t get near them,” said Emanuel, the president’s former chief of staff.
Those who live by the sword die by the sword. The mayor is pleading for those who wield the sword to stay away from innocent bystanders, especially little children.
Looking at the big picture, I think that ultimately the problem gets back to two factors: 1) fatherlessness, and 2) no fear of God.
The welfare state is a huge part of the problem. The welfare state broke the back of the urban family. It said in effect, “Dad, get out of the house, and we’ll provide more government money. Mom, the more children you have (doesn’t matter who the father is), the more money you’ll receive.” People know a bargain when they see one. They’ll do what works best for them.
So for decades now, the government has been subsidizing illegitimacy. And this has caused a social disaster. There was an improvement with welfare reform in the mid-1990s, but apparently welfare reform has been on the back burner for a while.
Everyone agrees that the violence in Chicago is gang-related. Why do young people (young men, really) join gangs? Primarily because of fatherlessness. They find protection and an older male figure in the gangs. Tragically, these mentors are leading them astray, as they were led astray.
What’s the solution? For starters, the federal government should stop penalizing the traditional family. They create more harm than good by such programs. Ostensibly geared toward helping the poor, all they do is create more poor people in the long run—a permanent underclass.
But there’s another factor that should be considered. The God-factor. (Or in this case, the lack-of-God-factor.)
Dr. Byron Johnson of Baylor University has done a lot of research on the subject of God and crime. He’s written a book filled with documentation called, More God, Less Crime (Templeton Press, 2011). The title says it all, and he has the goods with study after study.
That only makes sense. When people realize they will be held accountable for their actions (for good or bad), it makes a huge difference how they will act.
Many years ago, U.S. News & World Report (September 9, 1996) had a cover story with a picture of a church and this headline: “THE FAITH FACTOR: Can churches cure America’s social ills?” In that article, they ask and answer this intriguing question: “What’s the surest guarantee that an African-American urban youth will not fall to drugs or crime? Regular church attendance turns out to be a better predictor than family structure or income, according to a study by Harvard University economist Richard Freeman. Call it the ‘faith factor.’”
Recently, I saw a television interview* of Travis Smith, a young, former gang member who grew up in Cabrini Green (the infamous Chicago housing project, torn down in 2011). He said, “it’s very difficult to not get into that gang life…we’re talking about a place where nowhere is safe.”
At the age of 16, he ended up committing his life to the Lord. Then he had to tell his fellow gang members about it. “I gathered them all together, and I said, ‘I’m out of this. I’m living it—a life for Christ. And guess what? You guys can come along, too.’ None of them hit me…they tried to convince me otherwise.” Usually, members of gangs only leave in a pine box. But freed from the gangs, Travis has now become the first in his family to go to college; he has a future.
In the early years of America, when we had a stronger spiritual commitment, people could see the importance of the God-factor more clearly. For example, in 1849, Robert Charles Winthrop, who served as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said, “Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them, or a power without them; either by the word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.”
I’m sure if the God-factor were played up (voluntarily), the violence in Chicago would go down.
*Travis Smith will appear on Truth That Transforms on July 29, 2012.