The Terror Within


Like all Americans, the residents of Chicago’s public housing have been absorbed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks and their aftermath. There are certainly those among the more than 100,000 residents who had loved ones who were in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

On behalf of the Residents’ Journal staff and the board of We The People Media, all the victims of the attacks have our compassion and our sympathy.

Residents also certainly will be involved in the “War on Terrorism” that was declared by President George W. Bush. With our military preparing itself for armed conflict in remote parts of the globe, my thoughts turn to Residents’ Journal Editor-in-Chief Mary C. Johns, whose son and nephew are enlisted men in the U.S. Army.

These young men are preparing for this task with bravery and professionalism.

“I knew what I was getting into when I signed up,” Mary’s nephew Marcello told her recently when she spoke to him from a military base.

Mary and other mothers among the residents will spend their days and nights with a wrinkle on their foreheads and a tension in their shoulders as they worry about the fates of their loved ones.

They also will be asking the question that all mothers have been asking since the first young man went off to war: Why is my son putting his life at risk? Some of these mothers will ask why their sons did not come back.

I will be worrying along with all of those mothers with sons at risk: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and mothers of other faiths.

As a Jew with many relatives in Israel, I have a special appreciation for the concern that so many American families will be feeling for the first time. The threats of terror and war are something I have carried with me since the first time I saw a bomb shelter underneath my family’s home in Tel Aviv, since the first time my older brother went off to the battlefield.

I had hoped – naively – that I would never have to experience that fear in the United States. That hope was wiped away as I made frantic phone calls across the country after Sept. 11.

But residents of public housing and other low-income communities in Chicago and throughout the country also have an understanding of the threat of terror. Those same mothers with brave sons in dangerous places overseas have to walk through a daily gauntlet of fear through not-so-brave young men toting military weapons in the lobbies and hallways of their buildings. Rather than protection and security from police and other elements of our government, these mothers in public housing developments are more likely to be subject to harassment from the authorities.

Despite occasional pronouncements from police and other City officials, armed gang members sell drugs in open air markets within sight of the citys police headquarters.

I certainly do not begrudge the U.S. military the tens of billions of dollars that will be necessary to safeguard our nation from future terrorist threats. I also will not protest the tens of billions of dollars that will go to rebuild the business district of New York City or that may go to bolster the airline industry.

But let’s consider for a moment that the Chicago Housing Authority is spending just $1.5 billion over 10 years to build housing for its current residents.

Most serious analysts don’t think CHA will have enough money or time to build even enough replacement units for those families that live in CHA today. CHA definitely won’t have enough money to build any housing for the tens of thousands of families on CHAs waiting list.

Couldn’t just a few of those billions going to safeguard the nation and rebuild Wall Street go to ensure that tens of thousands of poor families have decent homes in safe communities?

I think that supporting public housing residents and other low-income Americans is a matter of justice. But our homegrown terrorists also are noticing the neglect of their neighborhoods by the government. Like terrorists anywhere, they are young men with little to lose and convictions born of desperation and isolation. Some of the gang members actually believe they are defending their communities from other gang bangers in the next building. One day, they may get bold enough to take their tactics to the next neighborhood or throughout the metropolitan area.

If the events of Sept. 11 have taught us anything, it’s that lawlessness and desperation will eventually spread like cancer. I hope our national and local leaders will use some of the funds being dedicated to the War on Terrorism to stop the local outbreaks of that global disease.

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