In the summer of 2009, 16-year-old honor student Derrion Albert was beaten to death with wooden planks by gang members while walking home from school on Chicago???s South Side. The murder was caught on cell phone video and later broadcast nationally, eliciting outrage across the nation. High-ranking Obama administration officials were deployed to the president???s adopted home town to discuss strategies to combat youth and gang violence.
Clearly, whatever policies were adopted by Chicago officials led by new Mayor Rahm Emanuel have not worked. That???s because the modern welfare state fails to acknowledge, and isn???t equipped to address, the root causes of such violence.
Chicago has averaged 450 homicides a year since 2005. Last year Chicago had about the same number of murders as New York City, which is three times as large as Chicago. There have been nearly 300 murders in Chicago so far this year, up 38 percent from last year.
After seven-year-old Heaven Sutton was shot dead by gangbangers at her mother???s candy stand recently, Chicago???s gang and youth violence epidemic again caught the eye of the national media.
When asked by a reporter about the surge in murders, Emanuel initially tried to downplay the problem, noting that burglary, armed robbery and theft are down 10 percent.
But perhaps sensing the inadequacy of that answer, Emanuel later said, ???It???s not about crime. It???s about values. As I said [when Sutton was shot and killed last month], who raised you? How were you raised? And I don???t buy this case where people say they don???t have values. They do have values. They have the wrong values.???
Rahm???s right ??? it is about values. But what he and other liberals seem not to understand is that in many ways the gangbangers are products of the values promoted by cultural liberalism.
The left focuses almost exclusively on improving the economic circumstances of the poor. But people can???t be lifted from poverty when they???re weighed down by moral and cultural chaos.
The values and policies at the foundation of the modern welfare state???economic dependency, racial and class resentment, cultural relativism and non-judgementalism???have proved a failure. They have led to social disintegration in the black community and, increasingly, in the white lower class.
A federal program cannot instill values. Only a family can do that. A two-parent family with a mother and a father is integral.
???How were you raised???? asked Emanuel rhetorically. But he well knows many of the criminals probably weren???t raised at all. There was no one there to raise them. The single biggest problem afflicting the poor black community is absent fathers. It is well established that roughly three quarters of black babies are born to single mothers, who are left working nonstop to try to provide for their children. And what fills the void? Gangs, drugs and violence.
Governor Romney made the link between lawlessness and family life in his speech at the NAACP???s annual convention last week. He said:
The path of inequality often leads to lost opportunity. College, graduate school, and first jobs should be milestones marking the passage from childhood to adulthood. But for too many disadvantaged young people, these goals seem unattainable ??? and their lives take a tragic turn.
Many live in neighborhoods filled with violence and fear, and empty of opportunity. Their impatience for real change is understandable. They are entitled to feel that life in America should be better than this. They are told even now to wait for improvements in our economy and in our schools, but it seems to me that these Americans have waited long enough.
The point is that when decades of the same promises keep producing the same failures, then it???s reasonable to rethink our approach ??? and consider a new plan.
I???m hopeful that together we can set a new direction in federal policy, starting where many of our problems do ??? with the family. A study from the Brookings Institution has shown that for those who graduate from high school, get a full-time job, and wait until 21 before they marry and then have their first child, the probability of being poor is two percent. And if those factors are absent, the probability of being poor is 76 percent.
Emanuel announced last week that he is devoting another $4 million to tear down vacant buildings where gang members live and store guns and drugs. The city has also created a ???watch list??? of businesses such as convenience and liquor stores that attract gang and drug activity.
???With these actions, we are sending a clear message to gang members: you will find no shelter in the city of Chicago. And whether it is a vacant building or a liquor store, we are committed to closing down cancers on our communities that serve as magnets for crime and gang activity,??? Emanuel said.
Those actions are a good start. But they won???t come close to addressing what fundamentally ails what used to be called the underclass.
Modern liberalism insists that the traditional family???a man and a woman joined in love and dedicated to raising a children???is only one of an array of equally valid lifestyle alternatives. But we will not begin to solve our problems until the left acknowledges that the traditional family plays an indispensable role in the success of individuals, families and society as a whole, and that social policy must be based on that truth.