On June 8, 23-year-old Xavier Joy was shot dead. His body was found in a South Side parking lot. Apparently, the motive was robbery. He lost his cellphone and his life.
Xavier’s future had been especially bright. He was a graduate of Whitney Young High School and a student at Morehouse College. He was taking time off to help the youth of those from the Chicago neighborhood in which he was killed.
For many people, Xavier Joy is a statistic — the 267th homicide victim in Chicago this year — but he is not a statistic to us. We are heart-broken, not because we all knew Xavier, but because we know his father, who is the executive director at CHANGE Illinois. He suffered perhaps the ultimate nightmare, the loss of a child, for seemingly no reason.
There is a special irony to this murder. This father, Ra Joy, devotes his professional life to changing the conditions that, if there is any explanation, might make such tragedies less likely.
It is fatuous, of course, to claim that we know with certainty what measures could prevent the senseless killings. Violence in our city, and across the nation, is what experts call a “wicked problem.” Instead of seeking a single solution, we must identify different causes and how they interact. As we respond, conditions change, often because of our efforts.
That said, complexity is no excuse. Some things we do know.
First and foremost, guns are a problem. They should not be so accessible.
People without hope have no stake in the future, and ultimately no stake in themselves and what they do to others. That is why poverty and a lack of jobs also are part of the problem. Gangs become a source of personal identity and purpose, no matter how cynical. In the fight for turf, gangs kill.
Listing the things that we might want to change is, in fact, the easy part. More difficult is creating a system of government under which change might be possible. Most of us, as individuals, support stronger gun laws, a state budget that funds programs to help those who really need them, a public education system that provides equal opportunity for rich and poor, and other critical needs. But it is not a stretch to say that democracy is not working. Our voices do not count for very much.
How can they, when the way political districts are drawn protects those in office and discourages candidates from running against them? Right now, incumbents do not have to defend their positions; and for the most part, they are unopposed when running for re-election. Why should they listen?
Big money in politics discourages potential candidates. It means that, if they do run, they will have a disproportionately hard time winning. Increasingly, wealth seems a prerequisite to becoming governor. The ability of party leadership to distribute support for campaigns mutes the voices of those who do get elected. Under such a system, there is no effective voice for change. What we deplore remains the same.
Xavier Joy’s father was fighting political change on such issues in Illinois at the time of his son’s death. None of the anger and heart-break we feel will matter very much if we do not restore democracy as the premise on which to address the tragic and “wicked problem” of poverty, race, and gun violence in our city, state and nation.
The hole in Ra Joy’s heart over the loss of his son will never go away. We can’t change that. But let us at least seek to redeem his horrific loss by seeking to change how we exist,and make our voices heard, as a society. Our collective grief should not block our vision of what all of us, as citizens, can do to make less likely, if even in a small way, the tragedy of June 8.
Rev. Al Sharp is executive director of Clergy For A New Drug Policy and a board member of CHANGE Illinois.