Chicago Failing the Black Community


The current tragedy of homicide violence and shootings in Chicago, now an annual summer event, and how to respond to it, is drawing international attention.  It is a vivid contrast to the capacity of the police to control demonstrators during the NATO Summit.  Of course, far more was spent on social control for the NATO Summit than will be spent on responding to community violence.

Since 2008 an estimated 530 youth, and the number rises every weekend, mostly African American, have been killed and far more wounded by gunshot in Chicago.  Nine out of ten times this is at the hands of other African Americans.  What is going on?  Simply put, the City of Chicago has failed its African American population.  The severe concentrated disadvantage in select neighborhoods produces violence. This includes extreme segregation, the unprecedented rates of incarceration and control of African American youth by the criminal and juvenile justice systems, growing inequality and poverty, unemployment, the failing educational system or non-existence health care for many.  This horrendous maldevelopment is worse, in many regards, than the conditions of Blacks during apartheid in South Africa.  As is often the case in conditions of extreme hopelessness and despair, violence is turned on each other.  Others are deciding to leave the city with the hope of better opportunities elsewhere.  Chicago is now only 18% African American.

If Chicago has failed its African American population, is it not a failing city?  While some are guilty of the violence, all of us are responsible. It is a sign of the persistent racism that the city allows such a catastrophe to mature and still proclaims it is ‘the city that works.’  The response of the City has been entirely predictable:  endless political posturing, police power tactics, marches and prayers to end the violence.  What is required is to both prevent the violence and promote the peace in select high-risk neighborhoods.

The Mayor and others want to remove the violence by removing the people responsible for the shootings.  They want the public to think that the threat is from Gangs and not the corporate and political officials that produce the intense inequality. Even less effective, Cease Fire will spend $1 million dollars to “interrupt” the violence.  This is like interrupting a wild fire and expecting that it will not go around the interruption and set another blaze elsewhere. More important, the same individuals who were “interrupted” are very likely to carry out the violence in different ways, such as against family members. But the City Strategy wants to isolate the gang related shootings from the other forms of everyday violence. The problem in Chicago is not gang violence but structural racism and inequality. 

The central cause of the current situation is the Global City Strategy of Chicago, dedicated to downtown development at the expense of most neighborhoods; an export based economy that fails to provide basic human needs for those most in need; the creation of carceral ghettos where many of the most violent young African American men are jailed, the subsequent wholesale destruction of families; a new economy that ignores the employment of those undereducated by the Chicago Public Schools, and other factors.

It is clear what the important risk and protective factors are to address both the prospects to perpetuate violence and to experiencing violence.  These myriad factors can be readily identified at the individual, micro and macro levels.   It is the accumulation and interaction of these factors that has produced the cauldron of violence in select Chicago neighborhoods.  But the City ignores this approach.  Instead, surveillance cameras are installed and police patrols intensified.

There is a way to reverse the culture of violence and death in severely disadvantaged neighborhoods.  Simply put, it is a violence prevention and peace promotion strategy.  That is the subject of Part II of this article.

July 9, 2012