Lawndale Lament


    The police violence in North Lawndale, and other communities in Chicago, is not new.  Many youth, parents, teachers, and principals believe police violence is as great a threat to African American youth as gangs.  What should be evident by now is that counting on the people who produce the violence to curb the violence is certain to fail.  Nor will prayer vigils, marches, press conferences, street patrols, ceasefire campaigns, mentoring campaigns and related efforts, individually or all together, stop the violence, let alone put the people of North Lawndale on track for a safe  and sustainable neighborhood. 

    Police violence is one factor that produces youth violence.  It teaches young people, particularly African American males, that life is cheap,  government is the enemy.  Government violence breeds anger, hate and revenge in youth.     A staggering 57% of North Lawndale adults are under the supervision of the Criminal Justice System. The prison is the new ghetto.  Violence and the lack of employment force poor residents to leave, making way for the new urban middle class.  

    The historical production of the violence in North Lawndale results from a series of racist urban renewal initiatives in Chicago, corrosive patterns of community disinvestment,  and “Global City” strategies linking Chicago to the world but  delinking the poorest neighborhoods to the future. Today greedy developers are working feverishly to produce an “extreme makeover” for affluent residents.  But why not match the wealth and energy dedicated to Millennium Park or the Olympics with a plan to break the cycle of inequality in the poorest Wards in Chicago?  Why not make Chicago the most just and fair city in America by 2016?  

    To break the intergenerational transmission of violence it is necessary to engage the families, schools, neighborhood and community institutions – indeed the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois - in a comprehensive program that both breaks the cycle of values, attitudes, behaviors and institutions that sustain violence and builds the values, attitudes, behaviors and institutions of peace and achievement for every resident.  In North Lawndale, this means every family, family member, school, social service provider, and government institution, including the police.  The cycles of violence constitute a dense web that must be unspun as we build new economic and social networks that insure human needs and human rights for every one of North Lawndale’s 41,000 residents – before they are forced out by urban renewal and gentrification.  Making matters worse, the limited social service and well being network in Chicago is increasingly overwhelmed by the need for assistance to both African Americans and the rising demands of illegal immigrant families.  Only a dramatic rethinking of what behavior to punish, prevent and promote can turn the situation around in Chicago. 

    Such a comprehensive strategy, a violence prevention and peace promotion strategy, would actually cost far less than the various costs of community inequality, poverty and violence.  It would require that elected officials in Chicago and Springfield be willing to do their jobs and eliminate inequality and poverty in their wards and districts.   So, it is long past time to stop lamenting the violence and start ensuing that the next, and future generations do not follow in the same footsteps.   It is the warzone in our neighborhoods, not the war in Iraq, that will shape our common future.