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Chicago Defender – We Can Do Better. We Must Do Better.

By Andrea L. Zopp

Like many of you, I was heartbroken when I learned of the massacre of 20 innocent children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14th. And, just like you, I was very disturbed that the gunman, armed with military-style weaponry from his home, was just a young man himself.  I went through a wide range of emotions and, after praying for the victims, I checked on my kids.

When a tragedy like this occurs, the nation comes together and, for a moment, stands united in mourning the lives lost, offering prayers and condolences to families and survivors, expressing our outrage and indignation on social media, and demanding action of our policymakers.

What happens after the dead are buried, however, troubles me. We tend to go back to our regularly scheduled lives and do not engage in a meaningful dialogue that produces long-term solutions. Right here in Chicago, some view the weekend shooting death counts as simply “the way it is.” This is not acceptable.

Nearly 30,000 people a year die as a result of gun violence in the United States and approximately 100,000 a year are injured and require medical treatment and hospitalization. In Chicago 428 people were shot and killed this year, 50 of which were children 17 years of age or younger.

In speaking about these national tragedies and gun violence in urban communities at the Newtown prayer vigil, President Obama said, “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s time for a change. We have to do better. We don’t have a choice.

While I’m more than willing to join the conversation about stronger gun control laws and increased funding for mental health services, I believe that our problems won’t be solved by addressing these issues only. It’s much broader than this. I believe we must first address the culture of violence in the country. We must rethink how we view and respond to violence in our lives. We must ask ourselves why we worship and reward violence in the music and entertainment industries.

If some of us celebrate movies that feature an exorbitant amount of violence, just imagine how our children respond when we let them play video games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, which are among the most violent video games ever made. I think it’s safe to say that this acceptance of violence in pop culture contributes to our oftentimes episodic response to real acts of violence in our communities and around the nation.
We must take stock of what we allow into our homes, onto our airwaves and in our theaters and be vigilant about what we will and will not allow to become culturally acceptable. As a collective group of citizens we all share in the responsibility of leaving this world better for the generations that follow us.

For those who cry out for tougher gun laws, then contact your lawmakers and support the advocacy efforts of organization that can take this message to lawmakers locally and in Washington.

If you believe in the right to bear arms, know that you have a moral obligation to be a responsible gun owner. Make sure that your gun is properly secured; no one else has access to it and, if it’s stolen, report it to the authorities immediately.

Speaking of authorities, it’s time to completely do away the “anti-snitching” code of silence that plagues our communities.  When criminals commit acts of violence on your block and you may be able to stop them, you must speak out to the authorities. Our blocks, streets and neighborhoods are worth defending and keeping safe.

Doing better for ourselves and our communities also means being fully engaged in the lives of and the education of our children. When Chicago Public School classes resume on January 3 for Track R students and January 7 for Track E students, parents and guardians must get our children back to school and must be fully engaged in their academic success; becoming full partners with them and their teachers.

It’s time for business—both large and small—to commit now to providing summer 2013 job opportunities and internships to young people. Giving them meaningful work exposure and a safe haven is essential to securing their futures and keeping them out of harm’s way.

I hope and pray that, in 2013, we have meaningful dialogue and, as a community take the -necessary steps to reduce and, eventually eliminate the gun violence that has taken too many lives. We can and we must do better for the sake of our future.

Andrea L. Zopp is president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League