In August, 10 people were shot overnight. In one night. In September, there were eleven homicides in five days. The murder rate always goes up in the summer, in an unfathomably, heartrendingly simple example of how simply our worst instincts can be expressed. Much of the violence this summer has been attached to gang violence, or, an emerging term, “clique” violence, according to NPR. I can’t pretend to understand the socioeconomic conflicts that constitute what is going on in inner city Chicago, but I do know some people, including several with NBA ties, are trying to help.
Steve Aschburner of NBA.com reported from the Peace Basketball Tournament, an effort to bring awareness and open lines of communication to try and stop the violence. And at the center of the event was a familiar face:
Last month, (Isiah) Thomas marched with Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina to raise awareness about gang violence and Chicago’s soaring murder rate. This time, Thomas – along with Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Quentin Richardson, Zach Randolph, the Chicago Bears’ J’Marcus Webb and others – was trying to bridge the gap between rivals with basketball, using the celebrity of the sports stars to deliver messages about, well, communicating.
“It’s a historical event where the gangs are coming together and they’re going to play a game involving peace, to stop the killing,” Thomas said. “Murder has run rampant in Chicago the last couple years, but gangs are calling a truce for this. By getting them to come together and play a sport, they might come to know each other. We believe it’s hard to kill someone if you get to know him.”
The event centered around a basketball tournament that split teams by joining up members of rival gangs. Having those kind of players who not only are star athletes they can look up to, but who have a connection to the city and understand what goes on there. And as Pfleger said:
“These cats comin’ down tells these brothers, ‘We care about you. We love you,’ ” Pfleger said. “You see the reaction. People are so thrilled, so excited. This isn’t happening at the United Center. This is happening on 79th St. That’s the key.”
These events go unnoticed, because that’s how we’re conditioned. This post will get substantially less traffic than whatever explosive nonsense quote we put up in the next 24 hours. And maybe that’s a failure on our part to highlight these things. But its’ a shared responsibility. Fans, regardless of where they’re from or what their lifestyle is, need to take note of these efforts. Awareness needs to be raised, because there’s a war going on and we desperately need to bring more attention to it in order to construct more conversation and then resources to solve these problems.
Addendum: This is yet another indication of the complex figure that is Isiah Thomas. You’re not going to find any lack of criticism for Thomas in my work, not only for his work with the CBA and the Knicks, but with his behavior in regards to the lawsuit against MSG. But there is no denying the strong connection and trust players have with him, nor the way he’s tried to be a positive force for communities and in the lives of players. You can’t paint someone with one brush, and his work in Chicago, which stems from his mother’s contribution (seriously, read the above) is just the latest in the roaming dialogue you can have on any given day about him.