The war abroad and at home

Posted: November 27, 2003

As we give thanks for our blessings on this holiday, we all should consider those who are at risk at home and abroad. Over the traditional food and drink, my thoughts are of the men and women who are serving this nation in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

Thanksgiving and other times when families traditionally gather are the most difficult to cope with when loved ones are in harm's way during war. As of this writing, more than 424 American soldiers have died in the Iraq war. Hundreds more have been wounded, many sustaining permanent disabilities. In addition, thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians have been killed during the conflict.

Some argue that the death toll so far, out of 140,000 serving in Iraq and an estimated 1.4 million men and women in the military, is relatively small. The administration is trying to play down the casualties and no longer allows news coverage of bodies brought home in caskets to Dover Air Force Base.

But for families whose members are involved, one dead or wounded is too many. On this Thanksgiving, hundreds of American families are remembering those who will never celebrate another Thanksgiving.

But there are others who have been killed in a different kind of war here at home.

It's a dangerous world out there. Last week, as I waited at a dry cleaner to pick up some clothing, I listened to a young African American man tell the owner why he'd not been around for some time:

"I was wounded," he said. "One round hit me in here" - he pointed to his left shoulder - "and the other grazed my hand." He'd been shot in an instance of road rage, and he was lucky and grateful he survived.

There have been around 325 homicides in Philadelphia so far this year. Of those, 145 have occurred in incidents between people who knew each other.

Bilal Qayyum, organizer of a group that has been working all year to prevent this kind of violence, has organized a peace campaign for December.

"In neighborhoods all over this city," Qayyum said, "many faces will be missing at family gatherings and dinners this year."

Qayyum is one of the leaders of Men United For a Better Philadelphia. Throughout the year, Men United has held vigils and marches to bring attention to gun violence and homicides brought on by the illegal drug market. He said that half of the homicides involve not strangers or robbers or drug dealers, but rather people who know each other.

Two weeks ago, Jasmine McDonald, a 13-year-old honors student, was found beaten and stabbed to death in an abandoned building next to her West Philadelphia row home.

Police have charged Peter Cook, 29, a man identified as a former boyfriend of Jasmine's mother.

During December, Men United will hold vigils, pass out literature, make referrals to conflict resolution counselors and programs, and, with the Police Department, will conduct a campaign to turn in guns and other weapons.

"We think we can have an impact on preventing that kind of violence," said Qayyum.

That's the kind of peace effort I am grateful for today, both here and abroad.

Contact Acel Moore at 215-854-4533 or

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