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The community is mourning the murder of Dajae Coleman, a freshman at Evanston Township High School who seemed to enjoy the love, security and support of his family. The investigation into his death is not yet complete, and many are searching for someone or something to blame. We blame the violence that has become a staple in this country.
Violence can be verbal, physical or emotional. It can be a response to an insult or injury, real or perceived, by someone too immature or thoughtless to consider more reasonable alternatives. It can take the form of a pre-emptive move to establish supremacy when one feels uncomfortable in a situation. Or it can stem simply from a love of power and a desire to hurt the weak and vulnerable. Excuses for the exercise of violence are myriad, mostly self-justifying, and Protean in their versatility to fit the circumstance.
But the fact is, violence is born of weakness; it is at best the last poor response to an unsatisfactory situation.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl is extending an invitation to the community to “seek solutions to address violence in Evanston. ” We expect hundreds of concerned residents to show up at this meeting, to begin at 7 p.m. on Oct. 2 at Fleetwood- Jourdain Community Center. Most will likely condemn violence, reiterate the City services that are available and urge kids to stay in school, do their homework, choose their friends wisely, become engaged in positive activities and find a safe haven for those critical after-school, early-evening and weekend hours.
Everyone should hear those things. We need to be reminded that this is a community with rich and deep resources, and a community that cares about its youth, its residents and its image.
Digging deeper, though, the community needs to explore the causes of violence. Evanston police say the main causes of violence among youth in Evanston are disputes over drugs, women, money and gambling. And of course there are random acts of violence in which Evanston youth are victimized. We need to better understand what is happening and why.
Despite the wealth of opportunities and resources, too many of our youth are falling through the cracks but not into the community’s safety nets. We need to understand how and why this is happening so we can address it in a meaningful way. Education, a strong support system and meaningful job opportunities have the potential to eliminate situations that may devolve into violence. But before we take steps to bolster these we need to be sure we are heading in the right direction. More programs will not help if they are not reaching our lost young people.
We also need to hear from those who are silent – those victims and witnesses who have chosen not to have seen what happened and who was involved. We need to learn what the community can do to entice them to step forward without feeling they are betraying someone they care about or risking their own safety. Silence may buy time, but it does not generally end the story – and when it does buy time, it is for the perpetrator but not for the next victim.
Unless we hear from those who are in the trenches in these escalating battles, we won’t have a clue about how to win the war.