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Commentary and opinion on current civic, political, and religious events and issues.

Past Issue
6 November 2000

Northern City Journal
(ISSN 1528-9575)
Vol. 1, No. 43

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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37 Murder Witnesses Remain Silent

by Jerome F. Winzig

Three months ago, an 11-year-old boy was shot to death on the north side of Minneapolis. A group of men had been gambling when a fight broke out. The young boy stopped to watch. There was an exchange of gunfire and the boy was fatally shot. The police have identified 37 people who were present at the shooting scene.

A month after the shooting, several billboards went up, offering a $13,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the boy's killer. The reward was soon raised to over $30,000. In the two months since the billboards went up, however, the Minneapolis police haven't received a single phone call about the shooting and no one has been arrested for killing the 11-year-old boy.

According to the police, the 37 people present at the crime scene had been arrested a total of 736 times in Minneapolis. Since the shooting, 27 have been arrested yet again, several have shot at police officers, and another was shot to death just a few blocks from the first shooting.

When 37 people cover up the murder of an 11-year-old boy, a significant breakdown of community and responsibility has occurred. While liberals and conservatives offer contrasting explanations, both sides have valid points. Its time to look at the factors that are tearing our society apart:

Lack of individual responsibility -- More children are growing up with inadequate direction and absent parents. As a result, these children grow up without a conscience and a sense of responsibility, and find belonging in gangs instead of family.

Cultural decline -- Much of what the entertainment media produces is unmitigated trash that tears down moral values, makes shocking behavior commonplace, and transforms outrageous crudity into acceptable conduct. This denigrates all of us, but is most harmful to those already on the margins of society.

Illiteracy -- There are 44 million adult Americans who are functionally illiterate. This is a greater divide than race or income. Jim Barksdale, the former CEO of Netscape who co-chairs the Internet Policy Institute, says, "Folks, if you can't read, you can't use the Internet. The Internet is a reading medium."

Advanced technology -- The U.S. economy is increasingly dependent on advanced technology. That's where many better-paying jobs lie. Auto mechanics for example, now requires knowledge of computers. More than ever in U.S. history, getting a good-paying job requires mastering at least the basic skills of reading, writing, and mathematics.

Racism -- Racism is alive and well in the United States. But it is not just practiced in flagrant ways by conservative rednecks. Some liberals also practice a more subtle, patronizing, and dangerous version that encourages a victim mentality, seeks governmental solutions to all problems, and ignores individual responsibility.

Social security taxes -- Social security is the most regressive of taxes. It takes over 12% of the first $76,200 of every American's earnings and one-fourth of it is used to subsidize general spending. At the same time, politicians encourage people to believe the government will take care of them. The combination discourages self-reliance.

Failing schools -- In part, schools fail because there are no good mechanisms for holding schools accountable and removing incompetent teachers. However, they also fail because we ask them to assume parental responsibilities while letting parents off the hook. This leaves schools fighting impossible battles that more money alone cannot solve.

Expensive rental housing -- High property taxes, excessive regulations, and burdensome governmental policies drive up the cost of rental housing at least as much as problem landlords, thereby limiting where poor people can live.

The list could go on. What's important is that we cannot address these problems until we stop blaming the big bad somebody elses. The blame lies with us. Unfettered pornography takes its toll. Unrestricted access to guns has a cost. Unlimited credit lets people get into far too much debt. Unfocused government aid takes away individual responsibility. Excessive personal liberty discourages parents from making sacrifices for their kids.

We need to start asking uncomfortable questions that cross the entire political spectrum. Let's ask why there are so few persons of color in higher positions in the American economy. But let's also ask why, as our schools feed more meals to increasing numbers of children, parental responsibility seems to have declined and more children are failing in school. Let's ask why some politicians are hostile to immigrants. But let's also ask why other politicians want to impose bilingual education even when it is detrimental to the children and is opposed by their parents.

The time to ask these broad-based questions is now. We have an evil sub-culture that tolerates and covers up the murder of children while the rest of us are shocked but still go about our daily lives. Undoing this evil sub-culture will require uncommon solutions. But if we do not change this sub-culture, it will change us -- for the worse.

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