We Are All Gang-Related

K.L.E.O. Community Family Life Center mural

I picked up the Chicago Tribune and learned that one of my students was murdered. My heart dropped and exploded multiple times, so much so that it took me two weeks to finish writing this. So many thoughts have swept through my mind. He was a good kid. When will this violence stop? I can’t imagine the overwhelming grief his parents are feeling right now. Was this retaliation for something? Was it gang-related? This last question is incredibly loaded in Chicago where bullets dart through the air like popcorn in perfectly oiled, hot skillets. It’s the same question that the reporter in the article posed, what the cops want to know and what his parents outright denied. This is often the question when it comes to the murder of urban youth. The way they are lumped together as one big problem, they are gang-related by association (real and imagined) and we’ve made them this way because that’s how we view them. I’ve watched the tone of this “gang-related” label shift over the years. It has become a swift, caustic measure to determine whether we should care or not for the deceased. Gang-related is now synonymous with not innocent, deserving of what comes, menace to society, and unworthy of justice or general concern from the public. Let’s face it. We don’t care as much if the victim’s cause of death was “gang-related” regardless of the circumstances.

Gang-related or not, these are children that we are dismissing and deciding are better off dead. These are children despite Kotlowitz’s stance that there are no children here. These are children stricken with the brunt of poverty and disdain. They are not a gang of monsters to run from, evade, imprison, or wish dead. These are children that we have created and that reflect us at our worst. So there has to be accountability all around. It doesn’t just stop at the parents. We already blame the victim, so who else wants to step up and take a bite – tasting, chewing into miniscule pieces, swallowing, and then digesting the rancid chunk of reality that is the death of our babies? The death of possibility and hope. The death of concern. And ultimately, the sluggish death of our nation.

While some of us see gangs as thugs, others see them as family, kinship and survival. It’s about perspective and circumstance. I don’t care about the gang title; I care about the violence that hides behind it. Quincy was a good young man, but he wasn’t perfect. No one is. While some of you see gang-banger tagged across the headline, I saw potential. I saw a human being trying to make his way in a tough neighborhood during tough economic times and righting his wrongs of the past by going back to school. Quincy was a beanpole standing at about 7 feet, side-splitting funny, intelligent, artistic, and a 2011 high school graduate on his way to college downstate in the fall. He also played the dozens until the defeated bowed down to his comedic superiority. He was truant from school at times and took a while getting focused in class. He irked my nerves at times. He was a normal teenager from where I stand. Now he’s dead, the second of my students this year and the fifth in the five years I’ve taught.

The murder happened on a scorching afternoon and occurred one block from my daughter’s school and across the street from my favorite café. This is my community, the one I live and work in. As horrific as this news about Quincy was, it was a regular summer day on the south side of Chicago. As a matter of tragic fact, my class planned for this spree of unnecessary violence in an end-of-the-year arts integration project entitled It’s Getting Hot: Stories of Loss, Hope and Survival in Chicago where my students drafted and performed monologues about youth violence – analyzing the reasons, the perspectives and the solutions. For many of them, it was the first time that they were asked to process and discuss how their lives were affected by community violence and what impact they had on the crisis. Almost 100% of my students knew a person under the age of 25 who had been killed or shot. Some had done the shooting. They had plenty of opinions on why they were killing each other, but had a difficult time figuring out how to reduce it.

I pushed and prodded. Although they eventually came up with a list of tips to distribute so that other students could remain safe during the summer, it did not surprise me that initially, they preferred to debate about the problems and reasons for violence instead of how to solve it. They mirror us – the adults in society that sensationalize the problem, lambaste it and debate it perpetually, but refuse to take serious and holistic steps to figure out viable solutions. And now that our state and every other in this nation will be forced to slice the budget even more, the very programs needed to support youth like Quincy will be cut first or severely bludgeoned to a state of fiscal inefficacy, as was recently reported in a USA Today article. The trickle down effect of “balancing” the federal budget will result in more crime, less resources and less opportunity for our youth. But instead of focusing on that, we’d prefer to ask questions like “was it gang-related” which absolves us of all responsibility. How about this? We are all gang-related somehow because we are all connected in tenuous ways and we must sit in this stew together or help each other get out of the pot.

There is no one answer or one savior that will swoop down and save us from ourselves or save our children. We must all take responsibility and work as a “gang” to stop youth violence and the ignorance that causes it. These are our children. They need us. If we refuse to believe that we can help, what becomes of future generations? What becomes of our hearts? I do not have all of the solutions, but I do know that at our best, we have heart, passion, the willingness, and ability to stop watching this annihilation and keep fighting on behalf of our future. I hope that you will keep fighting on behalf of our children. If not us, who?

Rest in Peace, Quincy. You will be missed and I promise to keep fighting for the millions of Quincys who are still here. God-willing.

Note: Name has been changed to protect the privacy of Quincy and his family. Please feel free to contact me (tina@tinafakhriddeen.com) for collaboration to brainstorm and meliorate this community crisis. Ashe.


4 thoughts on “We Are All Gang-Related

  1. Robin says:

    As always, my dear Tina, you are right on. We have been losing so many youth in our Chicago community and so few people seem to recognize that their mortality reflects our own, as a community. It’s a larger issue. We can not simply dismiss each loss as a “gang related shooting or death.” Every single loss impacts us deeply as a community, as humans, collectively. We desperately need to be better than this. Every day that we hear a statistic (and it is daily) let’s hope we have an emotional and political reaction. When that ceases to happen, something is fundamentally very wrong.

  2. girlgriot says:

    Oh, Tina! I’m sorry for the loss of your student and for the casual dismissal of that death by the larger society. Your post title really struck a chord with me. We are all gang-related, but what’s the way to make more people see, feel and know that so that young men like Quincy can make it past being gangly high school students. I’m with Robin: political and emotional reactions are required to make a change here.

  3. monica says:

    Tina, thank you for writing this and challenging “gang-related” and the words become ways to hide and dismiss.

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