In order to change the world, one must first change their mind about the world for it is impossible to change that which is not understood. Understanding is not natural instinct–it is a chosen activity. Things worth understanding in life must be worked at. In the book There Are No Children Here, by Alex Kotlowitz, the author dares to venture into the misunderstood lives of the tenants of the Henry Horner Homes.
The opening chapter contains the following passage which, first introduces the theme of misunderstanding and ignorance and the menace it poses to those living in the projects: “The youngster had heard that the suburban bound commuters from behind the tinted train windows, would shoot at them for trespassing on the tracks. Some of the commuters had heard similar rumours about the neighbourhood children and worried that, as the cardboard lions in a carnival shooting gallery, they might be the target of talented snipers. For both the boys and the commuters, the unknown was the enemy” (Kotlowitz 7). In this book, the reader encounters two kinds of outside forces: those who attempt to understand the poverty-stricken tenants and those who choose to not make an effort.
Prices start at $12
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Prices start at $12
If ignorance is bliss, it is also dangerous. In ignorance, priceless opportunities to change circumstances slip through fingers before even realizing what they hold. Sometimes these fingers belong to unlikely culprits. In the book, are several instances in which the police make no attempt whatsoever to understand the circumstances of the tenants. An example of some of the policemen’s “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality is exhibited by the death of Craig Davis. Marianos, a cop, murdered Craig, a black kid with a recent minor infraction because Craig was running and Marianos didn’t know why. Without any intention of finding out why he was running, Marianos decided to give chase and in doing so, the innocent Craig was killed by Marianos’ gun.
To the ignorant Marianos, Craig was “just another nigger.” (Kotlowitz (197). If Marianos had tried to understand the situation, a senseless killing could have been prevented. Another example of misunderstanding is found in the welfare worker. For the duration of the meeting with LaJoe, the woman “continued to rattle off proof” (Kotlowitz (96). If Edith Rogers had been more concerned with understanding LaJoe’s problems instead of demonstrating her knowledge, the Riverses might have remained on welfare. They were eligible because welfare was later reinstated. The lack of understanding of officers posed a threat to both Craig and the Rivers’ family–; demonstrating how dangerous ignorance can be to those in the projects.
There are people who will seek first to understand in the book. Surprisingly enough, some of them also don a police uniform. LaJoe comments on one of these policemen, Bill Spencer. “He understood them (the children), and would give them second and third chances” (Kotlowitz( 165). A policeman working at Henry Horner understands that kids will sometimes commit petty crimes in order to survive, and instead — focuses on punishing those whose actions could hurt others — is one who can then begin to help. Bill Spencer was such a police officer. In endeavoring to understand the community, he accepted the fact that he must strive not to eradicate crime, but rather to help the residents to deal with it.
Other cops, such as William Guswiler, positively influenced kids by warning them about “hanging out with the wrong people” (Kotlowitz (165). Organizations like the Black Panthers also understood and therefore started a breakfast program for the kids. All the people mentioned here were outsiders who understood the lifestyle that the projects constituted, and, thus, were able to help. Able to look past the hardened criminal exteriors of kids with records and choose to see children struggling to survive, they made a difference by understanding and catering to the needs of the community.
There is a story contained within the book about a child named Alonzo. He was shot due to gang warfare. Nine-year-old Alonzo’s story was unremarkable in that it was a part of daily life in HHH. What made the incident memorable was the fact that two days before the tragic incident, an eight-year-old boy had also had been shot in Winnetka And While life went on at HHH, life stopped in Winnetka. The local paper ran headlines, a crisis team was brought in for the children, the Governor called for increased school security, and at HHH everyone had all but forgotten Alonzo’s story. Ignorance and misunderstanding can be dangerous. If people choose, alternatively, to understand the projects and life within them, they can help. Maybe someday when people begin to make an effort to understand, stories like Alonzo’s will make the six o’clock news and be called an aberration rather than acknowledged as routine.
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