Mayor Rahm Emanuel stepped on a lot of toes this past week when he spoke bluntly about the role family values plays in reducing gun violence.
“This may not be politically correct, but I know the power of what faith and family can do,” the mayor said. “Our kids need that structure… I am asking…that we also don’t shy away from a full discussion about the importance of family and faith helping to develop and nurture character, self respect, a value system and a moral compass that allows kids to know good from bad and right from wrong.
“We are going to discuss issues that have been taboo in years past because they are part of the solution,“ Emanuel said. “And we cannot be scared to have this conversation.”
A chorus of black voices howled in response.
But if we are really honest with ourselves — and I’m talking to black folks now — the mayor said the same thing many of us have said among ourselves.
The truth hurts. And, in this instance, it is doubly hurtful because it is coming out of the mouth of a white man.
But we can’t have a conversation about stopping the violence without talking about the self-loathing and lack of values that is a part of that violence.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand all too well how racism, disinvestment, poor schools, job discrimination and segregation have played their parts in creating the circumstances that have brought us to this moment.
I came of age at the tail end of the Jim Crow era, when educated blacks couldn’t even get an office job downtown.
I understand the impact that mass incarceration under America’s failed drug polices had on urban communities, with children left in fatherless and impoverished homes.
And I lived in the public housing developments that stacked misery upon misery.
But as Shari Runner, former CEO of the Chicago Urban League, pointed out in her rebuttal to Emanuel’s scold, “There’s no more religious…community than the African-American community.”
We prayed through.
Some of us even thrived.
But far too many of us fell by the wayside, giving in to temptations that made mothers and fathers abandon their responsibilities to their families and to their communities.
Unfortunately, black leaders have been reluctant to broach this subject because they know they’ll be attacked the way a lone black conservative at a Democratic convention would be.
And it doesn’t help that too many whites, wrapped in a cloak of morality, point fingers at an entire community each time a black person commits a crime.
But no one blamed the family of Nikolas Cruz, the suspect in the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting that left 17 people dead, for failing to cultivate “faith” in his life.
When a 20-year-old white man killed his mother and 26 people, 20 of them children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there were no lectures about families not teaching “character” and “self-respect.”
And when a 23-year-old of Korean descent went on a rampage and killed 27 students and five teachers at Virginia Tech University, no one was ranting about the lack of “values” in the Korean-American or larger Asian community.
But after a particularly violent weekend end, I get plenty of emails about the lack of values in black neighborhoods.
“I return to the one and perhaps only place where crime can truly be prevented. That place lies in the home, in family structure, in morals and in community building and development,” one reader said in response to a column about drug prohibition and violence.
Because of the city’s racial history, Emanuel’s plea for a spiritual awakening isn’t likely to be well received in the communities that need it the most.
But that doesn’t mean the mayor is wrong.
We should call out the robbers, rapists, carjackers and shooters who are making life miserable for everyone else.
And we should remind parents they have a responsibility to raise children who respect themselves and others.
Instead of condemning the mayor, this is one time black leaders ought to be standing with him.
Because this is a message that should have been delivered by civil rights leaders, politicians, black historians, pastors, social workers, educators and activists a long, long time ago.