Yellow is the hue of both completely justifiable caution and abject surrender in the “Safe Passage” signs posted three to a block on the 53 routes that Chicago officials have mapped out in preparation for the new school year.
Vests of the same color and same dual significance will be worn by 600 unarmed civilian sentinels posted along what the police have determined to be the most secure routes for youngsters from 49 newly closed elementary schools to walk to farther flung “welcoming” schools in areas perhaps controlled by gangs that may not be so welcoming. The sentinels will be paid $10 an hour to serve as a deterrent to possible threats.
Nobody should imagine that these measures are not entirely necessary in a city where eight children aged 7 or younger have been shot since the Fourth of July weekend.
And there is no reason to believe Chicago police are not doing everything they can, with murders down 29 percent and shootings down 25 percent over last year despite the unstemmed influx of illegal guns.
But that does not make the present carnage any more acceptable.
Nor does it make the need for the “Safe Passage” signs any less of a disgrace, most particularly in our president’s hometown.
The implicit message is that other passages are unsafe for even grade school youngsters to pass through, despite our responsibility to keep them safe by whatever route. The signs announce a national emergency that is no less urgent because it is long standing and ongoing.
One of these “Safe Passage” routes might have run a block from Obama’s home if a nearby school that was initially targeted for closing had not escaped the final cut. He still likely would have said nothing.
Our president was roused to speak out against guns by the massacre of 20 youngsters at Sandy Hook. But he has been silent in recent days about the spate of shootings of youngsters in Chicago who have to live in fear of even getting to school.
A 5-year-old and a 7-year-old were among more than 70 Chicagoans shot during the Fourth of July weekend. The mother of the 5-year-old, Jaden Donald, afterward stood outside the hospital in bloodstained clothes and told reporters how she had raised her son’s shirt and seen a horrifying bullet wound in the stomach of a little boy who was always happy and loved bicycles and Spiderman.
“This senseless shooting has to stop,” she was quoted as saying.
The 7-year-old, Christian Lyles, was hit in the neck by a stray round while enjoying the holiday in a park across the street from where an off-duty Chicago police officer was shot to death three years ago. Officer Thomas Wortham had just been at the annual law enforcement memorial in Washington, D.C., where Obama had spoken. The cop was showing his parents pictures of the trip when somebody tried to steal his motorcycle parked outside their home. Wortham had survived a combat tour in Iraq only to be mortally wounded while challenging a thief in front of his own house.
Lyles survived, as did all the other seven shot children, including a 6-year-old girl, Quianna Tompkins, who was struck by a stray round while attending a memorial for a less lucky gunshot victim. A 4-year-old girl, Shyla Rivera, was wounded while riding in a car, though her older brother tried to shield her with his body. Another 4-year-old girl, Khalise Weatherspoon, was shot while playing outside. None of the youngsters are likely to feel that any route is safe when they return to school.
The “Safe Passage” program began in a small way back in 2009, when a cell-phone video captured a 16-year-old honor student named Derrion Albert being beaten and stomped to death after he was caught between rival groups from different neighborhoods while starting to walk home from high school. The program then involved posting a few civilians in a handful of locations.
With the mass school closings of elementary schools at the end of the last school year came the prospect of thousands of young kids being forced to venture into potentially hostile territory. The Safe Passage signs went up and the 600 sentinels were hired in preparation for the school year commencing Aug. 26. ”Safe Passage Maps for Welcoming Schools” were mailed to every student.
The maps are also posted online.
The routes are marked in yellow, the color of caution and surrender.