Plenty of gory stories about injury, mayhem and death in America this summer, highlighted by mass violence in suburban Denver and Milwaukee. Illinois has escaped those incidents, we think.
Oh, but then there’s Chicago, with its own – more extended in time and space – version of injury, mayhem and death: what seems like daily and nightly violence in the city’s streets and alleys.
Actually, the number of murders in Chicago declined in July and the overall crime rate is down 10 percent this year.
Just imagine: only 49 homicides this July in Chicago. Just 49 for the month! But that’s the lowest in 25 years, even though the murder rate is up 26.7 percent for 2012.
July, that is, was the exception.
In Colorado, Wisconsin and largely in Chicago, moreover, the perpetrators of violence have been identified, caught or killed.
But there has been a different and dramatic kind of mass injury, mayhem and death in Illinois that hasn’t, for the most part, made the headlines. And the perpetrators have gone completely free.
The statewide violence in Illinois started on July 1.
That’s the date that the budget recommendation with drastic cuts in Medicaid, developed by Gov. Pat Quinn and a joint committee of the General Assembly, was implemented.
Because that Medicaid program serves primarily the poor and marginalized, the injury, mayhem and death that come with these cuts now affect the very same neighborhoods and communities that inordinately experience violent crime.
In one fell swoop on the first day of July, hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents lost all, or a portion, of their health coverage, in the neighborhood of 180,000 low-income seniors and persons with disabilities lost their prescription drug coverage, and 26,000 families were cut off from the state’s FamilyCare program.
The July-instituted policies did not, it should be noted, demand that those affected manage to get sick less or have fewer dental problems, nor did they insist that those with life-threatening conditions stay alive.
The elected officials just told these folks, in effect, to endure their illnesses and pain, or to die without protest (that is, to go quietly in their departure from us and without notice) – or figure out a way to “deal with it” on their own.
The drastically reduced services did not, it should be noted, explicitly target communities of color and populations of poverty. But they might as well have, since that’s the consequence of their legislative action.
Maybe the governor and the legislators thought these communities and populations wouldn’t even notice because so many of the people in those communities and populations have already experienced billions of dollars in cuts for human services in recent years.
The officials must have assumed that, by now, the marginalized and poor and vulnerable in our state would have gotten used to it: oblivious to the attacks on their health, their opportunities, their lives.
The newly adopted policies do not, it should be noted, require hospitals and clinics, doctors and dentists, clinicians and therapists of various kinds, to take on the burden of treating the thousands upon thousands of patients who have been dropped from state-supported programs.
The officials just hoped that, still again, these professionals would be guided by their conscience and take another hit for being in the business of caring for people who need them.
It’s the story – the unnoticed and underreported, but still gory story – of injury, mayhem and death across Illinois.
And the perpetrators of the injury, mayhem and death?
They are congratulating themselves for what they say is the action required in order to save Medicaid in Illinois. The $1.6 billion dollars in cuts, they insist, are necessary to prevent the program from collapsing.
That’s altogether true if the funds needed to keep the previous Medicaid program in place were not to be found on the ledger sheets of other state revenues and expenditures, such as the dollar-per-pack of cigarette tax that was adopted.
Evidently, however, other sources were ruled out-of-bounds by the bipartisan joint committee that came up with the proposal – the one adopted by a margin of 94-22 in the House and 44-13 in the Senate.
State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) gave voice to those in the minority of those votes when she commented: “I don’t know where it’s written in the law that this has to be balanced on the backs of poor people, on the backs of seniors, on the backs of the aged, blind and disabled.”
But that leads to an even more serious question: how did all this happen now?
The answer to that serious question is that it happened now because it didn’t receive the attention and action that was required for years.
Getting by for years with an outmoded, unfair and inadequate tax system in the state meant that this year had to come.
So the perpetrators of the injury, mayhem and death aren’t just the current governor and legislators, but those governors and legislators who have allowed it to happen over decades.
In that sense, the perpetrators of the injury, mayhem and death this year are the citizens of Illinois over those same decades.
Now we’re all guilty of the injury, mayhem and death.
What to do?
Some say there’s nothing to do, except confess our sins.
Well, I guess that’s a start.
But then what?
Two things come to mind.
First, if it’s important enough for the governor to call a special session of the General Assembly to deal with the pension crisis in the state, certainly that special session ought also to take on ways of immediately minimizing the human tragedy that is now being inflicted on the poor and vulnerable.
If that can’t happen, shame, shame, shame on us – I mean all of us.
On the slightly longer term, we must acknowledge that unless our state’s tax system is reformed, we are only inviting more injury, more mayhem, more death in future years.
That tax reform effort must start now. It must be a factor in the forthcoming elections of state senators and representatives.
It must get a hearing in the veto-session of the General Assembly at the end of November and beginning of December.
And it certainly must be on the agenda of the new session of the General Assembly next January.
Otherwise: more and more stories of greater injury and mayhem and death in Illinois. More mass violence in this Land of Lincoln.
Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.