“As a result, wars are fed, not persons.”

Whereas forms of aid and development projects are obstructed by involved and incomprehensible political decisions, skewed ideological visions and impenetrable customs barriers, weaponry is not. It makes no difference where arms come from; they circulate with brazen and virtually absolute freedom in many parts of the world. As a result, wars are fed, not persons. In some cases, hunger itself is used as a weapon of war. The death count multiplies because the number of people dying of hunger and thirst is added to that of battlefield casualties and the civilian victims of conflicts and attacks. We are fully aware of this, yet we allow our conscience to be anesthetized. We become desensitized. Force then becomes our one way of acting, and power becomes our only goal. Those who are most vulnerable not only suffer the effects of war but also see obstacles placed in the way of help.

Pope Francis speaking yesterday at the United Nations Food Program in Rome. What is true on a global scale is also true in our city.

“In Chicago, homicide rates correspond with segregation”

Whether exacerbated by gangs or guns, though, Chicago’s killings are happening on familiar turf: Its poor, extremely segregated neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. And many say that is Chicago’s real violence issue.

“Where do gangs come from? They tend to take root in the very same neighborhoods that drive these other problems,” said Robert J. Sampson, a professor at Harvard and the author of “Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect.” “You can’t divorce the gang problem from the problem of deep concentrations of poverty.”

“What predicts violent crime rates is concentrated poverty and neighborhood disadvantage, and what determines concentrated poverty is high levels of black segregation combined with high levels of black poverty,” said Douglas S. Massey, a sociology professor at Princeton University.

In Chicago, homicide rates correspond with segregation. While many areas have few or no killings, the South and West Sides are on par with the world’s most dangerous countries, like Brazil and Venezuela, and have been for many years.

The linkage of segregation, poverty and crime exists in New York City as well. Homicides occur at higher rates in parts of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Harlem, and many other neighborhoods are virtually free of killings.

But segregation in New York is nothing like in Chicago: The perfectly isolated neighborhood – where every man, woman and child is the same race – is rare in New York. Less than one percent of the population lives in such areas, and most of them are white. In Chicago, 12 percent of the black population is in a census block group that is 100 percent black.

Racially segregated minority neighborhoods have a long history of multiple adversities, such as poverty, joblessness, environmental toxins and inadequate housing, Professor Sampson said. In these places, people tend to be more cynical about the law and distrust police, “heightening the risk that conflictual encounters will erupt in violence.”

“The major underlying causes of crime are similar across cities, but the intensity of the connection between social ills and violence seems to be more persistent in Chicago,” Professor Sampson said. “You don’t get that kind of extensive social and economic segregation in many other cities.”

– From a recent Times article, “Chicago’s Murder Problem.” 

“Let there be a moratorium on such preaching!”

Legalists and antinomians are equally guilty of hermeneutical gerrymandering to annex New Testament texts to foreign modes of ethical discourse. Christian preachers, at least since the time of Clement of Alexandria, have preached hundreds of thousands of disastrous sermons that say, in effect, ‘Now the text says x, but of course it couldn’t really mean that, so we must see the underlying principle to which it points, which is y.’ Let there be a moratorium on such preaching! The New Testament’s ethical imperatives are either normative at the level of their own claim, or they are invalid.”

– Richard B. Hays in his classic The Moral Vision of the New Testament.

“…white men have a vested interest in upholding the racial hierarchy…”

To people of color like me, the movement toward a more level playing field is occurring at a painfully glacial pace. But to many white men, the change is happening so fast and it all seems so painful!  Sociologists Henderson and Herring note that when white men begin to feel the effects of equality (e.g., they realize that they no longer receive preferential treatment or have power over others), it feels like discrimination to them. Being treated like everyone else is not discrimination (in fact, it is the textbook definition of equality). But when you’ve lived atop the racial hierarchy for your entire life and grown accustomed to preferential treatment and disproportionate amounts of power, it’s emotionally painful and destabilizing when they’re taken away. For this reason, many white men have a vested interest in upholding the racial hierarchy, even if they profess democratic ideals that suggest otherwise.

Trump, the White Man’s last gasp, and the Resurrection by Christena Cleveland. I wrote, less intelligently than Cleveland, about this perception by some (many?) white men that we’re being discriminated against back in 2011 after Newsweek had a cover story about “The Beached White Male.”

“…a cog in the machine of a racist hierarchy.”

In America, racism is a default setting. To do nothing, to go along with the market, to claim innocence or neutrality, is to inevitably be a cog in the machine of racist hierarchy.

These two sentences, by Ta-Nehisi Coates in a moving article about Nina Simone, perfectly summarizes why neutrality isn’t an option when it comes to racial injustice. The options are few: we resist or we collude.

“…a black man in the White House and nearly one million black men and women in the Big House.”

Most Americans see inequality – and the racial habits that give it life – as aberrations, ways we fail to live up to the idea of America. But we’re wrong. Inequality and racial habits are part of the American Idea. They are not symptoms of bad, racist people who fail to live up to pristine ideals. We are, in the end, what we do. And this is the society we have all made. So much so that we have a black man in the White House and nearly one million black men and women in the Big House.

-From the first chapter of Eddie S. Glaude Jr’s new book, Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul. A church member told me about the book yesterday after our service and I picked it up this morning. Glaude has quickly sucked me in- he’s precise and truthful in a way that, as I’m reading, feels notable for how rare such clear writing about our current racial and political moment usually is.  Another quote to give you a sense of this:

Opportunity deserts are the racial underside of a society that has turned its back on poor people, especially poor black people. This indifference allows most white Americans to be willfully ignorant of what happens in such places and to ignore the history of racism in this country that has consigned so many black people to poverty with little to no chance of escaping it. Most white Americans never go there – literally or metaphorically – and have a hard time imagining that such places exist.

“If you don’t expect to live past twenty-two…”

Fifty years after King’s visit to Marquette Park, Chicago remains one of the country’s most racially segregated large cities. Redlining is long over, but its legacy is inscribed on the neighborhoods. Some of those areas are poorer than they were at the time of King’s marches. In Englewood, on the South Side, poverty has grown from twenty-seven per cent, in 1970, to forty-eight per cent today. In the past decade and a half, the city knocked down Cabrini-Green, the Robert Taylor Homes, and other poverty-stricken public high-rises, but studies have found that the effort has done little to advance integration by race or income. A 2014 study by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law documented frequent discrimination against those people who try to rent using subsidized vouchers from the Chicago Housing Authority. On the city’s Northwest Side, landlords refused to rent to them fifty-eight per cent of the time. Most of the residents resettled in heavily black, low-income census tracts. Those areas are distinguished by the sheer absence of economic life: few hardware stores, pharmacies, and restaurants, and virtually no banks.

For more than twenty years, Robert Sampson, a Harvard sociologist, and a team of researchers have conducted a study of human development in Chicago neighborhoods. “The incarceration rate in the highest-ranked black community in Chicago is forty times higher than the incarceration rate in the highest-ranked white community,” he said. “You can’t even compare them.” Sampson’s team visited many cities—including New York, Baltimore, and New Orleans—before choosing Chicago. “If you want to trace across multiple dimensions the legacies of inequality, Chicago is a microcosm of all the things that are bearing down on cities,” Sampson said. His Chicago portrait, “Great American City,” challenges the argument that globalization and technology have flattened boundaries and details how the distance of a few blocks still determines the basic probabilities in life—the chances of hearing a tip on a job prospect, or receiving a first-time loan, or being hit by crossfire. Last year, four hundred and sixty-eight people were killed in Chicago, a higher total than in any other American city, and up thirteen per cent from the previous year. Most were killed in black neighborhoods, where homicide rates are thirteen times higher, on average, than in better-off white areas.

“If you don’t expect to live past twenty-two, then why would you delay gratification for something in the future that may never come?” Sampson said. “That, in turn, influences every big decision.” As early as preschool, the threat or the experience of violence can induce stress that distorts academic performance. The extent to which growing up in a poor black neighborhood in Chicago hampered verbal development was found to be the equivalent of “missing one year of schooling.” Nearly forty-seven per cent of all black men in Chicago between the ages of twenty and twenty-four are neither in school nor working—the highest percentage of any big city. (Nationwide, the figure is thirty-two per cent.)

-“Father Mike” in this week’s New Yorker, a profile about Father Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest who I hold in high respect. The section above details the seemingly impossible situation that Father Mike and so many other Chicago pastors and community leaders have been up against for decades.