When Will Obama Address the Real Causes of Youth Violence?

Rumors abound that President Obama may pull us out of Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 38 American troops murdered there last month. He should not, because the security of our people is at stake.

But if lives lost are to determine engagement levels, I have to wonder: Given that 47 American school children have been murdered in his hometown Chicago since he became president, will Obama abandon the Windy City too?

Of course he should not, because the security of our children is at stake.  So why hasn’t our president, whose verbal incontinence has produced public commentaries on everything from the arrest of a combative college professor to Kanye West’s drunken outburst at an awards show, spoken a word about the one problem for which his words might actually do some good?

It has been more than two weeks since Derrion Albert, a 16-year-old honor roll student, was beaten to death with wood planks by gang members in Chicago. The Albert murder — or more accurately, video footage of his murder — has sent shockwaves through the country and prompted a conversation about the root causes of youth violence.

Days after Albert’s murder, a 14-year-old Chicago boy was beaten and remains in critical condition. Last year, nearly 400 Chicago youths were shot, and five have been killed already this school year, according to the Black Star Project.  

But Chicago’s boys gone wild aren’t the only problem. Youth violence is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  In 2006, nearly 6,000 10-24 year olds were murdered, an average of 16 a day.  In 2007, 631,000 youths were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for violence related injuries.

In a 2007 nationwide survey, 36 percent of high school students reported being in a physical fight during the past 12 months. Among 10-24 year olds, homicide is the leading cause of death for blacks and the second leading cause for Hispanics.  

Some of the supposed leaders of the black community have misdiagnosed the problem.  Some have seized on the tragic beating death to call for more expansive gun laws.  Others have focused on minority unemployment.  

In his Chicago Sun Times column, Jesse Jackson nodded in the right direction by citing the need for “concerted anti violence intervention that will guarantee children and parents safe passage to school.”  But then he ridiculously asserted that youth violence was caused in part because “minorities were targeted by predatory lenders” and “minorities are receiving a dramatically smaller share of the government contracts than proportionate.”

Part of Jackson’s remedy is to “ensure the new green jobs go in part to the communities that were excluded from the old energy jobs.”  

Jackson’s diagnosis ignores the fundamental causes of youth violence, a “gangsta” culture that celebrates violence, drug use and sexual recklessness, as well as family instability caused by absent fathers.

It is indisputable that children from fragile families exhibit lower levels of social competence and more behavior problems than their peers.  

As America’s first black president, and as someone whose dad abandoned him, Obama would be an ideal spokesman for responsible fatherhood. He clearly recognizes the problem.  In The Audacity of Hope, Obama writes:

“Then there’s the collapse of the two-parent black household, a phenomenon that is occurring at such an alarming rate when compared to the rest of American society that what was once a difference in degree has become a difference in kind, a phenomenon that reflects a casualness toward sex and child rearing among black men that renders black children more vulnerable — and for which there is simply no excuse.”

He even admits that government doesn’t have all the answers.  He continues in Audacity:

“… although government action can help change behavior…a transformation in attitudes has to begin in the home, and in neighborhoods, and in places of worship.  Community-based institutions, particularly the historically black church, have to help families reinvigorate in young people a reverence for educational achievement, encourage healthier lifestyles, and reenergize traditional social norms surrounding the joys and obligations of fatherhood.”  

Obama is clearly reluctant to say these sorts of things in public.  The last time he did — in a Fathers’ Day speech last year — he was scolded by Jesse Jackson for “talking down to black people.”  

So this week, President Obama dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to hold meetings in Chicago about youth violence.  Holder and Duncan said all the right things about the limits of government involvement and the roles parents and communities must play in nurturing stable families.  

But Obama should be the one saying it, and it’s inexcusable that he’s not.

Obama needs to talk about the real causes of youth violence.  It’s not about predatory lending and green jobs.  It’s about vulnerable children produced by unstable families and absent fathers.