To some anti-violence experts, community activists, and even the city’s youth, President Obama’s plan to combat youth violence in Chicago is a bit unclear.
Jens Ludwig, co-director of the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, says that at this point elements of the plan are vague.
“It’s a little bit hard to tell exactly what the full range of activities will be as result from [Wednesday’s] meeting,” Ludwig said. “If today’s meeting generates an increase for federal assistance to local law enforcement and schools, though, then that’s a positive development.”
Last Wednesday, Obama administration officials Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder were in Chicago with Mayor Richard Daley to outline a general plan to address youth violence. The visit came in the wake of the beating death of 16-year-old honor student Derrion Albert. The Sept. 24, incident in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood on the South Side was captured on video, shocking much of the nation.
The Obama plan outlined last week includes more mentoring, after-school and Saturday programs, $500,000 for Chicago’s COPS Secure Our Schools and $24 million set aside for community-based crime prevention initiatives.
But how much of the $24 million will be set aside for Chicago and allocated to specific community organizations was not clarified. Community activist Phillip Jackson, director of Black Star Project, noted that none of the 30 community organizations he represents were notified by Holder or Duncan.
“To contact one or two organizations and say you reached out to the community is not adequate,” he said.
Ludwig takes issue with the $500,000 headed to Chicago’s COPS program; a dollar amount he says seems “very, very small.”
He stressed that much more money is needed to post additional police in school neighborhoods. Having a police presence when students head home, he stressed, is critical for their safety.
“When you talk to principals, the after-school period is a really big risk period for kids,” Ludwig said, “because everyone knows where you are at 2:10 when the bell rings.”
Because of that security risk, after-school programs will work only if students feel safe enough to stay after school, he added. The programs also have to be something that students want to do, said Fenger High School sophomore Sir Bratton. Fellow student Damien Coleman agreed.
“If you had a boxing club, there will be more teen boys in this school than out of it,” said the sophomore. Classmate Pierre Davis said after-school jobs would mean every student would leave straight from school.
The students, along with Rosita Jackson, a member of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, maintained that however the plan plays out, jobs and encouragement are more important than strict policing and punishment.
“We need to stop targeting bad children,” Jackson said. “All children want to be good. We need to show them how. We need to show them love … if we’re violent with them, they’re going to be violent with us.”