A Tale of Two Cities

It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.

The NFL Draft in town; protesting in the streets right outside. Income for white professionals is climbing quickly; income for the black family is in decline. Thanks to generations of housing discrimination, Chicago remains one of the most sharply segregated cities in the nation. The reality is that predominantly White Chicago and predominantly Black Chicago are two separate and unequal cities. We have seen how Governor Rauner has protected tax breaks for corporations (and not coincidently himself), at the small cost of cutting social services for at-risk kids. Illinois hasn’t passed a budget to fund these organizations for over 316 days and counting. Everyone is affected by this! (Okay, enough with the myriad hyperlinks already)

Well, guess what happened? All of the state’s mental health facilities have closed, making Cook County Jail the nation’s largest mental health provider. Almost all of the funding for youth employment initiatives has been sharply tapered, when combined with the white flight that gutted the industrial corridors on the south and west sides of the city (predominantly Black and Brown Chicago), has led to huge rates of unemployment, along with the bevy of other classic responses to the grinding conditions of crushing poverty. Including a ridiculous spike in violent crime:

Chicago YTD as of May 9 (% increase over 2015, one of the more violent on record)

Shot & Killed: 189 (+62%)

Shot & Wounded: 1,057 (+69%)

Total Shot: 1,246 (+68%)

Total Homicides: 213 (+55%)

There is a harsh reality: the priority of those in power has been to empower the north side and the Loop communities at the expense of the south and west sides. This has been overt and intentional. Make no mistake about it. Resources are poured into already-flourishing communities to the detriment of the communities holding on by a fingernail.


This stuff is all common knowledge in the city. None of it is particularly new. The city has been a tinder box for corruption and partisanship and racism since well before Dr. King moved here in ’66. But this has got to change. I’m going to throw some thoughts out there for you to connect:

  • Most kids in Chicago’s most dangerous areas live in survival mode. This is because they hear gunshots every day, and most have had at least one close friend killed. This is because they have very little hope to climb out of a system that drowns many of them before they turn 15.
  • Chicago’s new police chief, who has claimed to have never seen any form of police misconduct in 27 years on the job, is now blaming those who have been THE VICTIMS of these shootings by saying they are mostly people with arrest records (as if petty crimes deserve the death penalty or their lives matter less somehow), forgetting the structures of oppression that have led to them being arrested – such as the lack of educational opportunities, neighborhoods bereft of employment options, shattered community support structures like mental health treatment for their PTSD, the aforementioned premeditated destruction of the social service sector in the last two years, and the disproportionate minority contact with the criminal/judicial system (I refuse to call it the justice system until it starts acting like it) at every step of their life. He has also repeatedly reported that the CPD has spent over $100 million each year on overtime pay alone, in an effort to combat the violence.
  • Chicago’s police department has spent $642 million in settling misconduct suits brought against them in the last 12 years, and that number is only likely to climb higher and higher after the cases of folks like Bettie Jones, Quintonio LeGrier, and Pierre Loury in the last few months.
  • Nothing stops a bullet like a job. Statistics, anecdotes, and experience have shown that access, even limited access, to a legitimate economic opportunity decreases criminal activity DRAMATICALLY.
  • Oversimplified math: $642 M in misconduct suits, $100 M x 12 years for overtime pay alone, that means that about $1.85 BILLION spent because they are doing things wrong. How many summer and part time jobs could that provide? 15,360 part-time jobs per year that would pay $10,000 annually. If it were a more realistic high-school type summer job, making $3000/year, we are talking about employing more than 51,000 young adults annually over the last 12 years. And there are certainly no shortage of things that could be done.


So why are we doing things backwards? What are your thoughts?


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