Chicago is fast reclaiming the title of America’s capital of murder and mayhem. In three weekends, the city had over 100 shootings and 18 murders. Chicago has become “Kill-cago,” and city violence has again become a national story. What’s really going on Chicago? Why is the Second City the lead story in urban violence? When we look at the facts, Chicago is the ultimate “too city.”
One: the public educational system is too dysfunctional. With a price tag of almost $6 billion a year, Chicago Public Schools graduate less than half of its students. Only six of every 100 high school students graduate from a four-year college or university in four years. This year’s education agenda – we are looking at longer school days, no major curriculum overhaul, and a possible teacher’s strike. We have political gamesmanship, failing schools, and ill-equipped young people roaming the streets without live options.
Two: black communities are disconnected from the real political dynamic of the city. Over the last decade, Chicago lost 180,000 black residents, according to Census. The old public housing ring around the Loop was dismantled. Formerly stable black communities were disrupted and disoriented by an influx of poor people and a middle-class exodus. In the regime change from Mayor Daley to Emanuel, black leadership was sidelined and remains handpicked by the real power brokers. Black communities – the epicenters of the city’s murder and mayhem – are left reeling.
Three: city law enforcement is too parochial. Police personnel are recruited through historic processes of nepotism and cronyism, and the Chicago Police Department lacks racial and cultural diversity. There are many great officers, for sure, but law enforcement in minority communities resembles an occupying force. Community policing is practical impossibility when officers are culturally distinctive from
Four: economic disparities and the impact of public policies are too wide among the city’s neighborhoods. The rich neighborhoods in Chicago are insulated; poor hoods are isolated. The middle classes are squeezed by high taxes, plummeting home values, fees and fines, parking meters, “gotcha” tickets, and a general higher cost for lower standards of living. Fractured families that were already hurting are even more so. As violence spills over into downtown areas, we see that the pain will be difficult to contain in hurting neighborhoods.
Five: our metro region circulates too many handguns that are used in inner city crimes. Great Barrington, Illinois has a large gun distributor in the same community as America’s largest local church. Guns sold in suburban gun shops are used in urban crimes. Guns alone don’t kill people, but sick people with convenient access to handguns do. Because we don’t see our region as one big community, we don’t tighten laws to cut off the spigot of handguns for gangs and the lawless.
Finally, Chicago’s faith communities’ clergy voices are too compromised to credibly speak truth to power and challenge community residents. Sadly, our pastors get little respect. When clergy with institutional bases are too tied in with secular power and lack courage, powerless people suffer from ineffective advocacy. Eventually, everyone suffers when there are no town prophets. Children are being murdered in Chicago’s streets, and there are few spiritual voices with the ability to call the leaders and the people into account.
The mayor should call corporate, religious, and community leaders into a “Heaven Sutton” crisis summit to develop short and long-term comprehensive strategies to thwart the violence. We cannot let that 7-year-old’s death be in vain. Mayor Emanuel must include disparate voices in the summit and not just his political allies. What Chicago needs most are restored values, a vision that includes all the people and every neighborhood. Resources must be placed where they are needed most.
No neighborhood will be entirely safe, until every neighborhood is safe.
Senior pastor, New Mt. Pilgrim Church (West Garfield Park) and chairman of the LEADER’s Network