The Daley dynasty in Chicago may be giving way to the Obama-Emanuel political machine, but one thing remains constant in the Windy City: youth violence and a collective refusal to acknowledge its root cause. On the one-year anniversary of the beating death of a Chicago teen by his fellow students, Chicago remains in denial about the driving factor behind such mayhem: the disappearance of the black two-parent family.
The September 24, 2009, mob assault on 16-year-old Derrion Albert was captured on cell-phone video and broadcast around the world, provoking a crisis in the Obama administration. The White House was at that moment pushing the International Olympic Committee to award the 2016 Games to Chicago, a city intimately associated with the president and his inner circle. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan hurriedly flew to the Windy City promising more federal aid, while the Chicago school system launched a $40-million social-services and security program to connect “at-risk” male students with social workers.
Not surprisingly, the federal and local efforts have borne little fruit. Since Albert’s death, 78 more youth under the age of 19 have been killed in Chicago, overwhelmingly in black-on-black shootings. The studied silence in Chicago about the massive reality that underlies that city’s youth-violence epidemic—black family breakdown—is so complete as to border on perverse.
Chicago’s South Side marked the anniversary of Albert’s death with a Parent Resource Exposition, organized by the Black Star Project, a black empowerment group. The purpose of the exposition was to link up parents—i.e., single mothers—with social-services and health programs that allegedly would keep their children away from gang life. “This is how you prevent murders, by empowering parents,” said the Black Star Project’s executive director, as reported in the Chicago Sun-Times. “We’ve got to be doing major outreach to parents who need this kind of resource.” The mother of a 13-year-old murdered in February 2007 told the exposition: “The enemy is attacking our young people. This is about change for all of our communities. . . . I think we need to come together (in) a unified voice and until it happens, nothing will change.”
Fenger High School, where Albert and his killers had been students, held a peace rally in the cafeteria, attended by Albert’s grandfather. “We’re doing this so this never happens again,” he said. “We’re making it so we can start getting along together. We have to bring these kids together so they can know each other.” The Chicago Sun-Times editorialized: “It’s up to all of us—to be better parents, to be better neighbors, to reach out to a child in need.”
Such vacuous sentiments, while well-intentioned, are utterly beside the point. “The enemy” attacking Chicago’s young people is not a nameless force but something quite specific: the disappearance of paternal responsibility. All five of Albert’s suspected killers, as well as Albert himself, came from fatherless families. The overwhelming majority of perpetrators and victims in Chicago’s four-decades-long juvenile murder spree have come from single-parent homes. In Cook County, 79 percent of all black children were born out of wedlock in 2003, compared with 15 percent of white children; the black illegitimacy rate in inner-city Chicago is undoubtedly higher still. If anyone associated with the anniversary events—attended mostly by women—or in the press mentioned such family breakdown, much less called for an effort to change it, the record does not reflect it.
At the margins, mentors and social workers can give fatherless boys a better chance of growing up to be law-abiding, stable adults, if those mentoring programs are infused with the kinds of masculine virtues promoted by the Boy Scouts. But as long as the norm in black communities is for boys and men to father children without raising them, the killing will continue. No amount of government or even voluntary social-services program can compensate for the disappearance of the black family. Without a marriage norm, boys have little incentive to develop the habits of self-discipline and deferred gratification that make a male an attractive and capable lifetime husband and father—and that also inoculate him against a life on the streets. When boys grow up in a world where it is perfectly normal for males to conceive children and then disappear from those children’s lives, they fail to learn the most basic lesson of personal responsibility. Procreation becomes merely a way to become a “player.”
Without an acknowledgement of the real source of black crime, the usual excuses come flooding in. Writing on the one-year anniversary of Albert’s death, a local activist complained in the blog Chicago Now that federal stimulus money for youth employment in the city was running out. But holding a government-subsidized job is not the precondition for staying away from crime. Nor does the availability of jobs guarantee that boys will become law-abiding adults and responsible fathers. The reality is often the opposite: males are pushed to seek and hold stable employment by the expectation that they will have to support their children as in-home fathers and husbands.
In every American city, the disproportionate black-illegitimacy rate is matched only by the disproportionate black crime rate. In Chicago, blacks, at least 35 percent of the population, commit 76 percent of all homicides; whites, about 28 percent of the population, commit 4 percent. In New York City, blacks, 24 percent of the population, commit 80 percent of all shootings; whites, 35 percent of the population, commit less than 2 percent of all shootings. The black illegitimacy rate in New York is over 78 percent; the white illegitimacy rate in the city is 7 percent. The national rate of homicide commission for black males between the ages of 14 and 17 is ten times higher than that of “whites,” into which category the federal government puts the vast majority of Hispanics.
Frankly acknowledging the role of family breakdown in black crime will not, of course, put the black family back together again. But the continued silence on the matter, not just in Chicago but nationwide, means that that reconstitution almost assuredly will not begin—guaranteeing the future loss of black lives and social stability.