By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
As we headed into the New Year, Chicago’s homicide rate in 2016 reached 788, with 4,354 shot.
Could this escalation of gun violence, mostly on the South and West Sides of Chicago, be the reason why some African American churches did not offer their New Year’s Eve Watch Service that is traditionally held to pray in the New Year?
The extreme level of gun violence in Chicago is now affecting the lives of Black Christians who look forward to being in church as the clock strikes midnight. The Watch Service is a generations old cultural tradition that offers the hope of spiritual renewal and peace of mind. Cowardly shooters have managed to destroy the hallowed tradition, and I do so resent that.
For those who do not know what Watch Night Service is, the custom among African Americans of being in church to pray in the new year, began on December 31, 1862. These meetings were once known as “Freedom’s Eve.” Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. calls the Watch Services “a big deal” because on that night slaves and free Blacks gathered in churches and homes across America, waiting to see if the Emancipation Proclamation had become law.
When the clock struck midnight on January 1, 1863, all slaves in the Confederate states were declared legally free. Upon hearing the much awaited news, Blacks began to pray and literally have church, thanking God for their freedom.
In modern times, in some churches, it is a day of commitment for the new year, a time for the setting of religious objectives, and for thanking God just for being alive; in 2016, it is a sort of “how we got over,” given the gun violence that is suffocating this city.
Watch Service is a African American tradition that is slowly fading away, all because of gun toting cowards who have no regard for human life and who kill people over control of street corners that don’t belong to them, and control vacant lots that are for economic development, but have been transformed into dope dens.
The unrelenting gun violence has frayed our nerves and altered our lives. Those of us who can walk or take our children to school and pick them up, that is if we are that lucky, feel blessed. But for those of us who can’t, we pray that our children make it home safely alone.
Yes, I resent that too, for our children deserve to exist in a safe environment free from fear of gun violence…gun violence that is fast becoming the norm in so many communities.
For 2017, I pray that the New Year will not be filled with the sound of gunfire. I pray that fewer people will be shot an/or killed. I pray that no bullets will pierce the bodies of our children. I pray that those in the community who know the identity of these cowardly shooters will BREAK THE CODE OF SILENCE and turn in those who are destroying our communities. I pray that our communities will once again be thriving, safe havens for our children where they can play in the parks unafraid.
For 2017, I pray that peace will prevail—peace, something that doesn’t cost us a cent except goodwill towards men. If we don’t get a decrease in this violence, we will see more housing torn down in these “endangered communities,” more African Americans displaced OUT OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, and more schools closing. It’s called gentrification, where the decrepit neighborhoods are nursed back to flourishing communities in which Blacks cannot afford to live, and the only ones to blame are us Black folks!!!!
Peace will come to Chicago at the expense of a few African Americans or to the African American community as a whole. How long do you think our leaders will allow these shootings and killings to go on without taking some drastic action—action that will probably be objected to by civil rights leaders…but it will come? It has to, since nothing else has worked.
I prayed as the clock ticked near midnight that peace will prevail for 2017 and that the body count ceases to climb in the county morgue. I am praying for PEACE.