Have we lost all sense of proportion?
We have lived through a half decade in this country of blaming police for the actions of a sadistic few. We have lived through a year now of condemning the white race in America as systematically racist because everyone in the country doesn't have what some do.
Locally, we hear demands that the police force match the diversity of the community, and that it happen immediately. In fact, that has been a goal of every Chattanooga police chief dating back at least 30 years, but it's not as easy as snapping your fingers and making it happen.
Elsewhere, a Walmart Market closed recently in the Dalewood area, and inevitably desperate cries went up complaining about a food desert. City leaders and representatives of the area no doubt want to fill that need, but they cannot help do so unless they have a grocer willing to locate to a site that many community members — though not Walmart — said closed because of too much merchandise theft.
On Tuesday night, a group addressing the Chattanooga City Council said the city's 18 Youth and Family Development Centers had been closed too long and that all needed to open now. But the announcement that six would open for summer camps and that the others would open in the near future wasn't deemed quite good enough.
District 9 Councilwoman Demitrus Coonrod tried to inject a little perspective into the plea, but whether her truth was digested is hard to say.
"We're begging for people to come to work for the YFD sites," she said. "We've even increased the pay not once, but twice, to $15 an hour. So if you know anybody who wants to get on board and really impact those kids' lives pull out your phones fill out that application if you want to be a part of that change."
City leaders, on the one hand, only recently felt free enough to prepare to open the centers after a global pandemic. It was just this week, after all, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance that vaccinated people can feel safe to be in indoor spaces without a mask and without being socially distant.
On the other hand, the city cannot open and staff the centers without adult personnel to manage them.
Coonrod also joined a group of Black leaders on the steps of City Hall this week calling for an end to violence in the community. The end of violence might be realized, she suggested, with "additional options, other options" and with "funding" for "nonprofits and corporations" "because a lot of these programs are great, but can't be active due to a lack of funding."
Such comments cried out for specifics and solutions instead of vague words. The YFD centers are one answer but, as she mentioned during the council meeting, they must be staffed. Previously, she had encouraged families to enroll their children in the Hamilton County Schools' summer program, REACH, which offers free transportation and food and helps accelerate their academic learning.
Outside of city- and county-related opportunities, one anywhere in Chattanooga likely can throw a rock to a business needing employees. They're everywhere, and many of them start out even teen employees at more than the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
Options, then, are there for the taking. But they're not going to be served up on a silver platter. Someone must take the responsibility — that despised "r" word — to accept them.
Councilman Anthony Byrd, at the same City Hall steps gathering, seemed to have been making that point when he said parents must bear the burden to see their children are in the right kind of environment.
"We have so many programs," he said, "and we can build a million different centers, but, parents, we need you to take your kids to these facilities. We need to reach out and demand that their child is going, and that their child isn't just staying at home. Parents, please help us, because [as city officials] we can only do so much."
We can't help but wonder if the 15 months we've spent at the mercy of a global pandemic have altered our reason. In February 2020, our economy was roaring, Black and Hispanic unemployment were at record low levels, poverty had been slashed, the number of people needing government assistance had fallen, and large corporations had to raise pay because the competition for good jobs was keen.
Having escaped our recently pent up world, enriched from the largess of the federal government and the promise of more, more, more, we suddenly want everything now, and if we can't have what we want now, somebody's at fault. Somebody must take the blame.
But that's not reality. Reality is reason. Reality is personal responsibility. Reality is reliability.
In his 1961 inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." If life in this city and these United States in 2020 remains only a matter of "what your country (or city) can do for you," we forever will remain at loggerheads because it will never be enough and someone will always think someone else is getting more than they are.
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