By Georgie Anne Geyer, NEA ColumnistCHICAGO -- Some years ago when I was living in Brazil, I observed a male driver stupidly and dangerously cut off a woman driver on the road along Rio de Janeiro's beautiful seaside.
Instead of swearing or chasing after him, the well-dressed lady just leaned out her car window and said to him in tones that would make a CEO quiver: "The gentleman does not have a mother?"
It was such a wonderful put-down that, unless you are Donald Trump in one of his carnivals of bad-mouthing, no one could doubt that the "gentleman" more than got the point.
For various reasons, this little story came back to me as I visited my beloved hometown of Chicago over Mother's Day weekend.
First, there is little room for doubt that far too many of the third of Chicago that is now African-American come from fractured families as between 70 and 80 percent of black children in America are now alleged to be born out of wedlock. Second, even poor African-American mothers, and especially those splendid, self-sacrificing grandmothers, are surely far superior to their men in caring for their offspring.
But the implicit message in the Brazilian case -- that the male driver had not had the advantage of a mother's cultivating and civilizing effect -- is present here in America, too. It is surely present in Chicago, despite the wondrous changes:
The front door of the city, opening onto Lake Michigan, is more extravagantly elegant than ever. New skyscrapers glow at night, like a metropolis of a million diamond chips, and flowers soothe the soul everywhere. The famous Loop downtown has reached its fingers out in every direction, with charming new condos, boutiques and cafes that would make the Left Bank of Paris green with envy.
But only on the North Side.
On the infamous South Side and West Side, poor black people and Latinos live in historically white bungalow neighborhoods filled too often with the shadows of death and destruction.
The first weekend I was in Chicago this spring, 51 people were shot in the city, eight fatally. In one 3 1/2-hour period, someone was shot every 14 minutes. That is SOMETHING!
Not that the police and the increasingly hapless Mayor Rahm Emanuel do not know who the miscreants and murderers are. In fact, as the Chicago Tribune pointed out after the weekend, about 80 percent of the victims of the Mother's Day violence were on a "strategic subject" list, generated daily from a computerized algorithm that usually names about 1,300 killers and troublemakers.
They are told that the police are "keeping an eye on them." (Wow -- that's enough to scare the guns off you!) And help in obtaining a job or social services is extended to them. Sure, but ...
Most of the murders are occurring in an arc of neighborhoods on the South Side between Englewood (formerly white working-class) and Gresham (next to still upper-class Beverly Hills). All are now African-American, with well-kept homes, but totally without stores or commerce.
Today Chicago is one-third white, one-third black and one-third Latino. A recent survey from The New York Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that Chicagoans, particularly African-Americans, have little faith, if any, in the city and expect only more violence. A Pew Research Center analysis showed that the middle class has shrunk disastrously, devolving into what formerly was the "working poor." The integration that many of us worked toward has not come about.
What could be done?
-- Dwight Eisenhower sent armed paratroopers and a federalized Arkansas National Guard into Little Rock in 1957 to integrate the schools. Could not President Obama and Mayor Emanuel, working with black leaders and ministers, similarly deploy force to stop murder in Chicago?
-- Black leaders, in particular, should take on the "no black fathers" problem. This is not inevitable. From slave times to fairly recently, black families have been noticeably strong.
-- During the Depression, one of FDR's greatest achievements was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). From 1933 to 1942, young men on relief were given productive jobs in national parks and elsewhere. Why has no such program been put forward as an idea at this even more dangerous moment in history?
Indeed, why has NOTHING been done to save our cities, our communities and our boys? Maybe the lady in Brazil could tell us.