When 10-year-old Sireta White went to her cousin’s birthday party she didn’t expect to die. But she was killed in a drive-by spray of bullets.

The fifth grader was the second child victimized by gun violence in her predominantly African American Chicago neighborhood that week in March. It gripped the neighborhood and city. Public officials made speeches, but answers were few.

Much to the nation’s shame, Sireta White’s name could be replaced by thousands of others whose families have been ripped apart by violence. The Centers for Disease Control, which sees youth violence as a public health issue, reported that in 2004 more than 750,000 young people ages 10 to 24 were treated in emergency rooms for injuries stemming from violence. In 2003, 5,570 young people ages 10 to 24 were murdered — an average of 15 each day. Of these, 82 percent were killed with firearms. It’s our nation’s silent war.

Racism is embedded in the toll. Among 10- to 24-year-olds, homicide is the leading cause of death for African Americans, the second leading cause of death for Hispanics, and the third leading cause of death for American Indians, Alaska Natives and Asian/Pacific Islanders.

Most experts say eliminating youth violence demands quality public schools, after-school programs, recreational activities, healthy and stable families, employment and a positive outlook on life. It requires stopping the flow of drugs, alcohol and guns.

Building communities that are safe for children is not Bush administration policy or practice. Writing taxpayer checks to corporations and the super-rich is.

Next to oil, drugs and weapons are the world’s top moneymakers. Those drugs and weapons end up on our streets. Powerful interests are vested in their trade, with links to far-right U.S. foreign policy ventures.

The 2006 elections offer a golden opportunity to promote a national campaign to make our city streets safe for our kids, and to reject failed, expensive, private profit-driven programs. It takes a Congress that places children at the top of the budget agenda, not the bottom. Voters can demand an Urban Agenda from all candidates seeking a seat in Washington or the Statehouse, now.

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