What are the citizens of Chicago to make of the rash of violence that broke out over the weekend of April 19th? I would love to say that we have free access to crime statistics to determine how this seemingly outrageous rash of violence is different then we have experienced over the last several years. The problem is that with the current restrictions on access in place the public does not have the ability to make these comparisons. The Chicago Police Department (CPD) restricts access to almost all of the data they create unless they deem the release of the data in their best political interests. For argument sake I will accept the media’s argument that this last weekend’s violence was extremely large and outside the bounds of other warm weather spring weekends in the past. By doing this I bring forth the next logical questions that this blog desires to take on:
1. What should our response be? The situation that the citizens of Chicago and its police department find themselves in is not unique. In the past these incidents have been the motivation for terrible crimes perpetrated by agents of the criminal justice system against members of poorer communities in Chicago. It is very important that all of us do not over respond to the violence. Each time a member of our city loses his/her life to violence, it is a tragedy. What we must guard against is using our police force for missions they cannot possible complete. The CPD was never designed to prevent violence; the CPD is a reactionary tool and it is beyond their capabilities to be a preventive force as currently designed. Murder like most other violent crime is a sociological problem and not one that the CPD has ever been equipped to topple. The majority of the violent crime in the city is centered in the most troubled neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are highly concentrated with residents that have been most impacted by the loss of industrial jobs and the complete disregard for public schools shown by the Daley administration during his long tenure as our Mayor. The criminal justice system in Chicago and Cook County is wholly incapable of dealing with these sociological problems. Our response to these crimes must be centered on long-term sociological cures and not political expediencies. Without redress the continued joblessness and lack of education will only fester and motivate replication of these crimes for years to come.
2. Who is at fault? The criminal justice system has some responsibility for what transpired over the last weekend. The criminal justice system has decimated the communities where this violence has occurred. The CPD and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office have made their quota numbers from pillaging the male populations, and now ever increasingly abusing the female populations of these communities. The criminal justice system has disenfranchised whole generations from these communities from voting and the ability to get work in any number of fields. The affects of the work of the criminal justice system in these communities does result in violence, participation in alternative economy, and gang membership. The fact is that the effects of predatory criminal justice agencies and policies increase gang membership and drug use. Chicago policy makers continue to try to defeat gangs, poverty, and lack of education with violence and prison. There are few to no successes in their efforts over the last 15 years; maybe it is time to take a different road. Policy makers bear responsibility for the actions of the criminal justice agents and agencies. The criminal justice agencies cannot continue to be turned to as a solution for sociological problems, they are not the cure. Policy makers continue to take the path of least resistance to reelection, lock up anyone young and of color, especially males. Policy makers in Chicago have never tackled real world solutions to poverty and a lack of education. Policy makers need to live up to their responsibilities and make the hard political decision of defunding the criminal justice agencies to a degree. The money saved needs to be put towards sociological solutions to prevent another generation growing up in Chicago in complete poverty with no education.
3. What about the CPD’s ability to reduce crime? I am not a believer that the CPD played a large role in the reduction of crime and violence in Chicago over the last 15 to 20 years. Crime and violence decreased across the country since the early 1990s. If the CPD’s role was significant in Chicago then one would have to believe that all the disparity policies and procedures throughout the country were responsible for the reductions in crime and violence in their jurisdictions. The alternative theoretical perspective is that there has been something else going on that we have yet to uncover that affects the nation as a whole and has little or nothing to do with local criminal justice policies. Under Superintendent Phil Cline the CPD used hot spots policing to flood communities with police when violence flares up. Cline was also responsible for the creation of the street unit of the Special Operations Section (SOS). Units like SOS and the Targeted Response Unit (TRU) were to be used to repress violence in communities. In the end the SOS unit ended up being totally corrupted and was illegally arresting individuals just to get their house keys and rip off their homes. I am not exactly sure, but I do not think this is what the public had in mind when they wanted the police to reduce violence. Even if the CPD is able to repress violence, they are not curing any social realities that are the root cause. We are continually stuck in a circle of violence and repression caused by gangs and our criminal justice system. Policy makers need to have the courage and change course from the doomed one we cannot find the strength to turn off of. Some terrifying statistics that more vividly demonstrate the problems we have with our criminal justice system in America as a whole include:
• As a nation we have over 6 million of our residents under the control of the criminal justice system.
• As a nation we imprison 25% of the world’s prisoners.