What are we to make of all the attention in the media about the number of Chicago Public School (CPS) students that have been killed in violent incidents this last school year? For one, we are surely not supposed to look at the true root causes, social causes, of violence in underprivileged neighborhood. The true root causes have significantly more to do with every resident of Chicago and our elected leaders than anyone wants to admit.
No matter how much Mayor Daley tries to control access to hand guns, gangs will continue to get regular unfettered access to them. The major issue is why a 14-year-old child would seek out a gun in the first place and everything else associated with that decision. Politicians and policy makers conveniently ignore social dimensions of violence and crime and instead address individual cases that miss the larger issues.
Loss of industrial jobs: Chicago leads the nation in the loss of industrial jobs. Chicago has not recovered in any manner from this fact. While the majority of these jobs have been lost for well over two decades the ramifications of this fact are continuing to have an impact on families that would otherwise have employed parents. There simply are no jobs available for low skilled and no skilled workers in Chicago. While very small numbers of those jobs have been replaced with service industry jobs, in the end these jobs are just window dressing because there is no way the service industry can possibly incorporate the jobs lost in Chicago to deindustrialization.
Drug war: Drugs have criminalized entire generations of individuals that have no ability to support their families through means that “white” Chicago considers “legitimate”. Society treats gang members and drug dealers as if they have decided to skip that factory job that pays a living wage and instead works on the streets hustling. This train of thought allows citizens that are not facing the realities of these neighborhoods to vote for policies that have disastrous effects in these neighborhoods. The drug war has made criminals out of individuals trying to support their families and corrupted our police forces to the core.
When drugs were starting to be illegalized FBI director J. Edgar Hoover wanted to make sure that drug crimes were the prevue of the state or local policing agencies because he foresaw the corrupting effects of the cash involved in trafficking in these substances. Every single major corruption case involving Chicago Police Officers has involved drugs in some manner, not their use but selling or sealing of the substances for profit.
We need to re-conceptualize our view of drug addiction and drug addicts. It is clear from American history that prohibition and incarceration will not stop citizens from using and abusing drugs. We need to remove addiction from the prevue of the criminal justice system so that our police officers can concentrate more fully on their primary duties, assisting communities in securing their neighborhoods. Drug addiction needs to be treated as a medical problem, which of course it is. This is not only the liberal way to address the issue it is also the fiscally responsible way to proceed. It is significantly cheaper to treat and addict at around $8,000-$10,000 per series of treatments then incarcerate them at $22,000 a year as we do now.
Education: The Chicago Public Schools for the most part have abandoned poverty-stricken neighborhoods in favor of spending its resources on schools in upper income areas, the exactly wrong decision if your end goal is to lift people out of generations of poverty. Years ago, Mayor Daley created a plan called Renaissance 2010, which was an effort to bring down the worst schools in the city and reinvent them with new charter schools.
Well, in fact this seems more to do with aiding gentrification then it does with lifting people out of poverty. There seems to be gathering evidence that schools in gentrifying neighborhoods are the schools that are targeted for closing and transformation. When it starts out it seems like the CPS and City Hall are doing a great thing by transforming a school in a poor neighborhood into a charter school that will be significantly better than the original school. The missing fact around this theory is that there seems to be a pattern that when a charter school hits a neighborhood that is a sign that change is afoot. Gentrification is spurred by property values and schools thus both are tools used by authorities to aid in the process of neighborhood change, removing the poor and moving in the middle class usually also based in removing the blacks and moving in whites.
Case Study: North Lawndale
In North Lawndale for example, CPS closed Collins High School as part of Renaissance 2010 and is creating three charter schools within the confines of the same structure; however, most of the current students are going to be shipped to a lower performing school in Little Village. This movement of all black students to an almost entirely Latino school has very serious ramifications for racial and gang problems to be spurred by their attending this other school. Not to mention that the school they are being shipped to is lower performing than the school they were at, not exactly what should be done if we are looking to lift these people out of poverty.
The Mayor and CPS are now forcing gang members to decide between crossing gang lines or dropping out of school. One decision has you risking your life from violent repercussions; the other may very well seal a life of extreme poverty. This makes no sense unless you take into account the fact that Collins is in Garfield Park and that there are new townhouse that have been built across the street starting at $500,000. I am sure that the new residents will appreciate having three separate charter schools to pick from to send their children. Most of the residents in North Lawndale are living in either poverty or extreme poverty. I wonder in five years what percentage of the students in the new charter schools will be from families living in similar financial circumstances. Some Statistics:
- As of 2000 approximately 57% of all adult residents of North Lawndale are under the control of the criminal justice system.
This takes into account individuals serving time in County Jail, Illinois Department of Corrections, and individuals serving out their sentence on either probation or parole. (Source: Arrests and Incarceration in North Lawndale Drugs, Crime, and Consequences, Oct. 2002)
- Close to 95% of the residents are African American, with a median income of less than $20,000.
(Source: Community of Hope: Economic Revitalization Plan for North Lawndale, 2007)
- North Lawndale’s unemployment rate is 13%.
(Source: Community of Hope: Economic Revitalization Plan for North Lawndale, 2007) The actual rate is probably much higher because after 6 months individuals fall off the roles of the unemployed and are no longer counted.
* Sources: CPS data comes from the Illinois State Board of Election. Illinois Department of Corrections data comes from their annual reports 1999-2005
The chart above details the amount of money CPS spends per child on educating a child for a year including administrative costs. The blue and yellow bars detail the amount of money spent by the Illinois Department of Corrections to incarcerate an adult and juvenile in their facilities per year. Either we are spending way too much money to incarcerate our fellow citizens or way too little money educating our children.
When we see another CPS student being killed by violence, we should ask what possibilities the City had ignored in their community that has led to this child being murdered? CPS has issues as most inner city schools due with money. One can only wonder what could have been done to improve the schools if only we had a common sense approach to spending public money in this city.
Just some of the money Mayor Daley has or will spend:
- $500,000,000 of public and private money on a park in the loop
- Billions on O’Hare expansion that nobody has documented will relieve congestion and is already out of money and looking to borrow more
- Hundreds of millions if not billions more on the Olympics
What could have been if all that money was spent on education rather then corruption and making white areas of the city prettier? We should blame ourselves and our elected officials for failing so many communities in Chicago. The media has their blame to share because they have completely failed to cover these neighborhoods. Most of the time the media even refuses to cover aldermanic elections in a comprehensive manner. We have business sections, what about an absolutely forgotten section that will document how there are no jobs for the low and no skilled workers in our city. Many communities in our city are and have been devastated for decades and there is no light at the end of this tunnel. Only a concerted effort and a reorganization of our priorities in a major fashion will reduce the number of CPS students killed in the future. No amount of crocodile tears from our elected officials and the media is going to solve this problem; neither will “throwing money” at some corrupted program aimed at getting some nice publicity for our Mayor and community leaders.
An ancillary issue related to this topic of youth dieing from violence in our communities is what responsibility should we lay at the feet of the Chicago Police Department? On this issue I side with the police for the most part. Over the last three decades there has been significant disinvestment in social programs and agencies. Instead the public and policy makers have turned to the criminal justice system to handle the repercussions from this disinvestment. The criminal justice system is not the answer, never had been and never will be. They are a contributing factor to the destabilization of inner city communities.
Circumstances police are not the answer to:
- Why kids are out late at night when they should be home
- Why kids and adults turn to selling drugs to make a living
- Why CPS has completely failed to educate generations of inner city residents
- Why there are no jobs for low and no skilled workers
Police are forced to be the answer to control the effects of total social neglect in communities of color in Chicago. Police are left in a no win situation that does nothing but enhance racial and class tensions in the city. We must start divesting from investments in the criminal justice system and start investing in education and job creation of low and no skilled jobs. We must get beyond the idea that Chicago, as a global city will provide jobs for communities like North Lawndale without significant rearrangements of our priorities. Globalization is the final blow to inner city communities in Chicago. Unless we make changes, the number of 24 CPS students killed in violent incidents in a single school year will become a goal rather than a serious item in need of significant examination.