This past Fathers’ Day weekend marked the official beginning of summer. Yesterday was the last day of classes for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and today is the first day of summer break for students. For the city of Chicago, that means 14 people were killed and 43 wounded in the last 4 days, totaling 300 homicides this year – 98 more than this time last year. Much like the United States, there’s a micro-mass shooting in Chicago every weekend this time of year. Here’s why:
- Gang control – over 80% of the violence in Chicago is gang related. Gang membership exceeds the tens of thousands. If the same law enforcement resources dedicated to keeping downtown Chicago (the money) safe were dedicated to the known areas where gang activity is rampant, this would be a different conversation. I live downtown, and it annoys me to walk down Michigan Ave. seeing 3+ police officers on every corner exchanging laughs with tourists. The city’s money is made (and spent) downtown, from tourists and tax paying residents respectively – so the police presence is significant to make the money feel secure. But there’s no violence in downtown Chicago, and majority of the tax paying citizens live elsewhere despite a bulk of their tax dollars being funneled to maintain the aesthetic and security of downtown. Imagine if there were 3+ law enforcement officers on every corner on the south and west sides where majority of these gang related killings take place? Imagine if those tax dollars were invested back into these communities instead of the Magnificent Mile?
- Gun Control – despite Illinois having some of the strictest gun laws in the country including a ban on assault riffles, and 1 of the 2 republican U.S. senators (Mark Kirk) who support gun reform, the black market for gun sells and trade flourishes. Nearby Indiana’s lax gun laws are partly to blame. Over 60% of weapons recovered in Chicago crime come from outside the state of Illinois and 20% of those confiscated weapons can be traced back to Indiana. “You can be in the city of Chicago and be closer to a gun show in Indiana than you are to downtown,” said Sarah Emmons, a researcher at the University of Chicago’s Chicago Crime Lab. “Having such dramatically different regulations in such close proximity makes it really, really easy for folks [to bring illegal guns into Chicago].” There has to be a widespread seizure of illegal fire arms and a crackdown on the white men who traffic them into these black and Latino communities.
- Gentrification – gentrification has displaced many families outside of the city and into surrounding suburbs. The problem now is members of rival gangs who used to live on opposite sides of the city, now live on the same block because their families were pushed from their homes and into unfamiliar territory – together. Just because they are neighbors now doesn’t make them friends. Meanwhile the mayor boasts about the decrease of violence in the city following gentrification, when the violence hasn’t decreased at all – it was just moved outside of the city and concentrated into the same 5 or 6 communities. Just blocks from downtown Chicago and the northside lakefront, the notorious section-8 housing community, Cabrini Green (remember the movie Candy Man?), is now a flourishing community with high-rise condos, a Target, a police and fire station, and young white professionals walking their dogs. The little diversity that could once be found north of Roosevelt St. and east of Halsted St. is all but gone. Subsequently, Chicago is the most segregated metropolis in the U.S.; that’s by design and it’s had grave consequences on violence in communities of color.
- Government – over the last couple of years more than 50 Chicago Public Schools have been closed, all of which were in communities of color. The state of Illinois is currently moving into its 2nd fiscal year without an approved state budget; CPS is in serious threat of not starting classes on time in the fall as a result. The closure of schools in communities of color means that youngsters have to now walk through rival neighborhoods to get to school when school used to be just down the street in friendly territory. Closed schools mean open streets for young people – which means trouble. About 78% of all Chicago killings since 2001 have happened outdoors. People with resources (white/rich people and people in government) don’t send their children to Chicago Public Schools, so they couldn’t care less if CPS opens or closes as long as the violence stays where “those people” are. In the last decade, we’ve seen massive development along the northside lakefront, the emergence of Maggie Dailey Park, a new Ferris wheel at Navy Pier, and talks of development along the Chicago River, yet the Chicago local and state government can’t seem to find funds to keep the doors of public schools open.
These are the problems: gangs, guns, gentrification, and government. How can you be a part of the solution? Pray. Support mentor programs in the city like GRIP Outreach for Youth and others. Continue to be a vocal and active advocate for nationwide gun control reform. When you visit Chicago, connect with locals to get a glimpse of the city outside of downtown Chicago – to be an outside witness to the entire city of Chicago and not just where the money goes. Then pray some more.