Pubdate: Mon, 03 Jul 2017
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2017 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Rex Huppke



Chicago, I'm told, has a morality problem.

That's what White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders
said the other day when asked if violence in our city is related to
easy access to guns.

"I think that the problem there is pretty clear that it's a crime
problem," she said. "I think crime is probably driven more by morality
than anything else."

That's an interesting statement, given the reason the question was
posed: The administration had just announced that 20 federal gun
agents were being dispatched to Chicago to help with a task force
focused on the flow of illegal guns into the city.

The 20 agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives are certainly not tasked with boosting morality. They're a
smart and welcome addition to a city that is on pace to top 700
homicides for the second year in a row.

But too often, discussions of Chicago's homicide epidemic involve an
attempt to distill the problem down to a single issue and a casual
willingness to defame the people who live in the city's most violent

Hanging Chicago's decades-long violence problem on any one factor is
pure laziness. It isn't just guns. It isn't just poverty. It isn't
just education. And it most certainly isn't just morality.

While a new police initiative in Chicago's two historically most
crime-plagued districts shows early promise, violence remains
stubbornly high as the city marks the often turbulent July Fourth weekend.

While a new police initiative in Chicago's two historically most
crime-plagued districts shows early promise, violence remains
stubbornly high as the city marks the often turbulent July Fourth weekend.

What this city has is a horribly perfect storm of economic ruin, lost
infrastructure, lack of opportunity, recidivism and hopelessness, much
of that driven by the years-ago segregation of people of color into
neighborhoods on the South and West sides that became easy for many in
Chicago to ignore. Or to simply drive around.

Yes, guns are a significant part of the problem. Unacceptable living
conditions and poor schools don't help either. Morality, when it comes
to a person actually deciding to take another life, is undoubtedly in
the mix.

But to say morality is the main factor is an insult not only to the
vast majority of people who live in neighborhoods plagued by shootings
but to the thousands whose lives have been forever altered by gun violence.

It's the kind of lazy comment made by people who will never set foot
in Lawndale or Englewood or Little Village, never take the time to
meet families doing their best to raise kids and lead normal lives
under hellish circumstances.

A morality problem? Please come and tell that to the people who fill
churches across the South and West sides on Sunday mornings, to the
mothers and fathers who hold prayer vigils after shootings, to the
former gang members who seek penance by pushing young men and women
onto a wiser path.

Sanders won't come and say that to them. Most won't. They're all talk
because, at the end of the day, it's easier to question another
person's morality than to actually care about him.

Which leads me to a question for Sanders and the Trump administration:
Is morality the key factor behind America's opioid epidemic? Would you
paint the predominantly white victims of this deadly rise of drug
addiction and overdoses as immoral?

Because I certainly haven't heard that language when it comes to

In March, President Donald Trump said: "We want to help those who have
become so badly addicted. This is a total epidemic. And I think it is
almost untalked about compared to the severity that we're

It is severe. In 2015, according to the American Society of Addiction
Medicine, more than 20,000 overdose deaths were related to
prescription pain relievers and nearly 13,000 overdose deaths were
related to heroin. Four out of five heroin users started out misusing
prescription painkillers.

What's driving this epidemic? Many of the same problems Chicago
communities have dealt with for years.

A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Public Health
described it like as "long-term economic deprivation, high rates of
unemployment, and fewer opportunities for establishing a long-term
career with potential for upward mobility."

Those circumstances put people at a higher risk for self-medication
and drug addiction.

At a town hall meeting in Ohio in August, Trump said: "We're going to
take all of these kids -- and people, not just kids -- that are
totally addicted and they can't break it. We're going to work with
them, we're going to spend the money, we're gonna get that habit broken."

I hope the president does as he promised. The opioid epidemic must be
addressed, same as gun violence in Chicago and elsewhere.

But again, look at how the issues are talked about.

In Chicago, people are dying because they're being shot. But the
administration won't directly highlight the easy availability of guns
that flow into Chicago from states with lax gun laws. Instead, we hear
about morality.

With opioid addiction, people are dying because they're overdosing on
prescription painkillers and heroin. And we hear plenty about the easy
availability of those drugs, but nothing of morality.

In New Hampshire in October, Trump said of his plan to build a wall 
along the border with Mexico: "A wall will
not only keep out dangerous cartels and criminals, but
it will also keep out the drugs and heroin poisoning our youth."

It's the Mexican drug runners at fault. It's the fault of the drugs

"Heroin overdoses are taking over our children and others in the
MIDWEST," Trump tweeted in August.

You don't -- and you won't -- hear Republicans blaming white people or
their morals for the opioid epidemic. And you shouldn't, because, as
with gun violence in Chicago, it's a crisis that bubbled up from an
array of circumstances.

But if the argument is that making drugs less available might help
save lives in rural areas, logic dictates that making guns less
available might help save lives in Chicago.

And if the argument is that white, rural Americans who become addicted
to opioids are victims of circumstances beyond their control, it seems
that Americans in predominantly minority communities in Chicago
shouldn't have the violence they can't control pinned on some
perceived moral failing.

These are complex issues, and both deserve more serious attention than
they're getting.

But if you're looking at these tragic situations and feeling sorry for
one group while blaming the other, that should give you a clue as to
why the violence here in Chicago has gone on so long.

Put simply: It has never been a white people problem.

And if you can't reckon with that truth, perhaps the morality you need
to worry about is your own.
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MAP posted-by: Matt