Laura Washington: An answer, ‘The Answer,’ to Chicago violence

SHARE Laura Washington: An answer, ‘The Answer,’ to Chicago violence
SHARE Laura Washington: An answer, ‘The Answer,’ to Chicago violence

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“I’ve got The Answer!”

So said my old friend as he greeted me at the City Club of Chicago. Dr. Carl Bell joined a panel of experts atThursday’sluncheon. The program, titled, “Chiraq” posed the question: Should famed filmmaker Spike Lee make a film about our city and call it “Chiraq?”

Dr. Bell’s answer has nothing to do with Lee or movie making.

We desperately need answers. The unremitting violence continues. Over the July 4 weekend, 10 people were killed and 55 wounded. The South and West sides are war zones. MostlyAfrican-Americans. My people are committing genocide.


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Dr. Bell knows his stuff. He is a retired professor of psychiatry and public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, once ran a revered community health center, and now serves as a staff psychiatrist at Jackson Park Hospital.

For more than 40 years he has treated those who suffer from trauma. The casualties of Chiraq come to him.

He sat on the podium before the crowd of 350 of the city’s movers and shakers. Sporting a tilted, wide-brimmed hat, he dealt out the facts. He pleaded that we hear The Answer.

Fetal alcohol syndrome.

“Now since 1967 as a physician I have been witnessing this phenomenon. That, when I was in medical school, was called socio-cultural mental retardation.

Black communities are saturated with liquor stores. Black women have high rates of unplanned pregnancies, he adds. They unknowingly drink early in pregnancy. The babies are poisoned in the womb. Their children go undiagnosed.

“It’s only been recently that I’ve been able to figure out what the hell I was seeing.”

In a new published study, Dr. Bell and a colleague examined 611 patients at a family medicine clinic on the South Side. They identified 237 as “having clinical profiles consistent with neurobehavioral disorders associated with prenatal alcohol exposure.” That’s 39 percent.

He emphasized that the vast majority of the mothers do not realize they are pregnant in the early stages, according to the research.

Their children go undiagnosed. “The children perpetrate violence,” Dr. Bell said. “The children to grow up to be adults that perpetrate violence. They can’t work because they can’t keep a job. Because they’re subtly brain damaged.”

Who knew? It explains a lot. It explains why, as he put it, black children graduate from a Chicago public school but “can’t subtract seven from 100.”They have “explosive tempers.”They have “bad judgment.” They are “doing stuff that doesn’t make sense. Explosive violence.”

Our neighborhoodsare saturated with liquor stores, but bereft of jobs, health care and options. Liquor stores — and fast-food shacks create diseased communities. Dr. Bell dubbed them “food swamps.”

Fetal alcohol syndrome. “It’s the biggest public health problem for African-Americans since slavery.”

Dr. Bell is evangelizing his profession. He recommends more controls on the liquor merchants, more advocacy for health education and healthy eating.

His answer was hard to hear, but I refuse to accept that black people are singularly immoral, genetically stupid or hopelessly incompetent. This answer gave me hope. This answer is a place to start.

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