Ignoring the Glock In the Room

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A peek inside the gun vault of the Chicago Police Department. (Photo: Fox)
[A peek inside the gun vault of the Chicago Police Department. (Photo: Fox)]

Donald Trump and his buddy Jeff Sessions are at it again – taking aim at Chicago’s persistent problem with gun violence and coming up with all the wrong solutions.

Yesterday President Trump displayed his contempt for constitutional rights by declaring that the Chicago Police Department needs to institute a “stop and frisk” policy to stem the tide of gun homicides that has plagued the Second City for many years. Never mind that studies show such policies disproportionately target blacks and other minorities, especially in white neighborhoods. Never mind that a white Chicago police officer was just convicted of second degree murder for shooting a black suspect 16 times. The idea of giving police officers more license to confront people randomly  does not sit well with a community still reeling from the sight of that awful video and from the scandal of the city covering up that shooting.

Attorney General Sessions plans to make a statement opposing federal oversight of a sweeping police reform plan being proposed in Chicago. Sessions argues that the 2015 consent decree between the Chicago PD and the ACLU was responsible for an upsurge in homicides in 2016. The consent decree required documentation for every stop police made of a potential crime suspect.

But there is no evidence that the documentation burden on its own caused an upswing in violence. Furthermore, homicides increased in a number of U.S. cities in 2016. What is unique about Chicago is that “more homicides were committed with guns in Chicago than other cities.” (“Few answers as Chicago hit with worst violence in nearly 20 years,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 30, 2016)

Once again, our NRA-backed leaders leave out one of the most obvious issues when it comes to violence in Chicago: the proliferation of guns in our city. A lack of federal oversight and lax gun laws in the states surrounding Illinois make it far too easy to obtain guns, whether legally or illegally. The cost of an illegal firearm goes up dramatically when strict gun laws are in place. But Illinois’ relatively strict gun laws are meaningless when a gang member can make a 30 minute drive to Indiana to obtain a weapon.

Chicagoans are tired of being singled out by New Yorker Donald Trump for the rate of violent crime in our city, which isn’t even the highest in the country, contrary to popular belief. But what is really maddening is listening to our president propose wholesale violations of citizens’ rights instead of looking at one of the real solutions: making it harder to get a gun. Until we remove the NRA’s stranglehold on politicians and policy makers, gun violence will continue to plague our country, in Chicago and across the nation.

 

 

Indigenous Peoples Day

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Most of us know that Native Americans were driven off of their tribal lands by white colonialism and later U.S. territorial expansion from the day Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean islands, thinking he had found the East Indies. Far from celebrating Columbus’ “discovery” of America, many Americans feel it would be more appropriate either to eliminate the holiday called Columbus Day or change its focus and rename it Indigenous Peoples Day.

I would support the idea of reclaiming the dignity, traditions, and history of our native people by honoring them with a U.S. holiday. For far too long, Native Americans have been depicted as primitive and warlike people of whom white settlers were justifiably afraid. I will never forget how, as a child, I was terrified of the sinister figure Injun Joe from Mark Twain’s novel Tom Sawyer. Movie westerns portrayed Indians as savage figures eager to scalp poor defenseless pioneers. In this way, white America was able to gloss over or justify the extermination and essentially, the internment, of Native American people on small tracts of land called reservations.

More and more, American history teachers are bringing to light the larger story of American colonialism and westward expansion, a story that includes the unfortunate plight of the Native American. Understanding this history is an important step and should be acknowledged on this day set aside to honor a man whose actions towards the native people were often horrific and violent.

But we must go beyond a mere recognition of the atrocities of the past. Native Americans today suffer from high rates of poverty, alcoholism, and diabetes. Their right to operate casinos is a mixed blessing that brings with it certain unsavory elements. And the destruction of their tribal way of life has marginalized the customs and sacred traditions of disparate native peoples. Instead, Native Americans are lumped together in the public mind as the monolithic “other.”

Our government needs to do more to address the endemic social and health problems of our Native American citizens. Modern Native Americans need to be recognized for their contributions in many areas of society. And Americans need to give up their beloved Indian mascots in order to erase generations of stereotyping of Indians.

So there is much to do in our society to further the cause of Native Americans in our country. And a national holiday in their honor is a great way to start.

“Midwife” Delivers Nostalgia

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My sister and I share tastes in many things. We both love sweets, good books, and serious theater. So it was a bit odd that I didn’t immediately take her up on her suggestion that I watch the PBS series Call the Midwife. For the better part of two years, my sister would mention how much she loved this period piece about midwives set in London in the early Sixties. And for two years, the idea of the show lacked appeal to me.

Finally, I decided to give the show a try. I instantly fell in love with the nurses and nuns of Nonnatus House, a home for midwives in Poplar, a poor district in the East End of London. In each episode, these nurse midwives tend to the growing families’ needs for medical care, sustenance, and moral support in often rather grim conditions. Their life’s work is imbued with optimism and love, for both God and their neighbors.

The series, which completed its seventh season this past spring, also delves into the lives and loves of the Nonnatus House residents themselves. Based upon the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, the series begins with Jenny moving into the midwives’ domicile and struggling to be accepted in the small world of Poplar – and in the world of the religious sisters themselves. One of the nuns struggles with her growing affection for the local doctor. Another shows a gruff exterior that hides a kind and caring interior. The non-religious midwives also have their trials and tribulations, such as alcoholism and the hidden love for another woman.

I love the faithfulness to the culture of the early 1960s, where abortion and homosexuality were illegal, birth control was in its infancy, and most women in the area of Poplar gave birth at home. The clothing, hairstyles, music, and topical references all add to the realism that transports the viewer to another time and place that many remember well. In the season seven finale, for instance, the Nonnatus House residents learn that President John F. Kennedy has been killed.

I’ve learned some interesting things from watching the series. For example, I never knew that there were Anglican nuns. The sisters and their religious devotion are treated with great respect in the series. The beauty of their rituals, the habits they wear, and the love with which they minister to the needs of their community are all lovely depictions of what a life of faith can bring to the world.

Call the Midwife is a deeply heartfelt paean to a world and a time and place that seem distant but in many ways are not so far from our own modern trials and tribulations. There is plenty of childbirth on screen, so the show is definitely not for the squeamish. But the series has evoked so many tears from me – tears of sorrow, yes, but also tears of joy.

When season seven concludes, it is 1963. I look forward to next spring when the residents of Poplar take on 1964 with the same cheek, gusto, drama, and neighborly love that they’ve shown season after season on this wonderful series.

Newcomers to the series can catch all seven seasons of Call the Midwife on Netflix. Season 8 will debut with a Christmas special on PBS in December, followed by season 8 in the spring.

As for me, I will never doubt that sister of mine and her conviction that I’d like something. When it comes to most things, we are two peas in a pod.

Celebration of Life

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Celtic-Tree-of-Life-Symbol-and-Its-MeaningAbout a dozen well wishers gathered last Sunday afternoon to celebrate the birthday of a mutual friend. To the outside world, the gathering may have seemed pleasant but ordinary. After all, people have birthdays every day of the year. But to us, our felicitations for our friend marked something even more special: new life.

One year ago, that same friend was fighting for her life after a diagnosis of advanced stage cancer. On her birthday, she was in a medical facility preparing for an intensive few months of chemotherapy and radiation in a bid to save both her life and her quality of life. I remember bringing her a battery-operated candle to brighten the sterile atmosphere of her room in that facility. And I remember the uncertainty and fear.

Over the past year, a few friends and I have tried our best to help our friend get through treatment, deal with insurance, and make sure her home, car, and bills were taken care of. With no family, she would have been truly alone in the world. All of us juggled our own family responsibilities in order to be there for her as much as possible. Sadly, one of us, herself afflicted with cancer, passed away.

A year later, my friend is 50 pounds slimmer and cancer free. All her hair has come back gloriously, and there are only a few small scars to reveal what she has been through this past year. When she showed up to her birthday party in her new skinny jeans,  we were all delighted. She’d earned that piece of cake, let me tell you.

Life is a mystery, and cancer is one of the greatest medical enigmas of our times. Why does one woman succumb to her cancer while another recovers? Why does a wife lose her young husband and have to raise young children on her own – or vice versa? What makes one person live to a ripe old age and another die young?

Obviously, I don’t have the answers to those questions. I can only do my best to live a healthy life, to care for my family and friends, and to celebrate life no matter the circumstances. I pray that my friend and all the people I love have the chance to blow out many more birthday candles before they leave this Earth. And I hope I am on hand to help them enjoy that cake.