As a 40-year resident of Chicago, I am at pains to say that the crime situation here is the absolute worst I have ever witnessed. Entire neighborhoods on both the West and South Sides of this otherwise vibrant, beautiful and inspiring city are veritable war zones.
This situation has been slowly building over the years, as high-paying, skilled and unskilled manufacturing jobs in once-thriving steel mills, auto factories, and iron foundries have been shuttered or moved to greener pastures in the suburbs and beyond. Once the capital of “black business” in America, now the term is the punch line of a cruel joke. “Mom & Pop” grocers, hardware stores, auto parts stores, clothing and dress shops have disappeared entirely or have been bought out almost exclusively by one type of Middle Easterner or another. If not "Arabs," Pakistanis or Indians, then Korean or Chinese “entrepreneurs" have displaced the once black-owned and operated businesses. And, in keeping with the term “family-owned” business, these people tend to hire their own family members rather than their predominately black customers. (In my graduate political science courses these people were called "Merchant" or "Middle Man" minorities).
The only thriving black businesses seen "on the block" today are hundreds (sometimes 4 or 5 in one block) beauty and barber shops, beauty supply shops (owned by Asians, Indians or "Arabs," but run by blacks), and everything from tiny, one-room "storefront" churches to 15,000-seat mega churches -- all within steps of each other.
Oh, the ubiquitous liquor store may be found on every single corner on every semi- or main drag -- without exception.
Another reason for the rising tide of violence in Chicago has to be the unrelenting and doubling-down of the putative “war on drugs,” which has managed to saddle eighty percent of young black men in Chicago with felony convictions. (See Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow). These convictions are, for the most part, for small amounts of marijuana, although recently the city has, on economic grounds, decided to issue $200 to $500 tickets, rather than automaticly arrest, for possession of less than one ounce of the demon weed.
These young men are selling and using illegal drugs because they are unemployable by virtue of that Scarlet “F” for “felony” which is now etched across their backs like a deep, bad and indelible tatoo. "Turf wars" mean murder, robbery, carjacking and victimization of any bystanders unfortunate enough to be between them and whatever criminal objective they are after. This is now the rule for countless stretches of blocks and blocks and enclaves, which in saner times sported solid brick and graystone, middle class, single family homes. Jazzy apartment complexes celebrated modernity while surrounded by leafy, well manicured lawns fronting squeaky clean streets.
Finally, the tearing down of all of Chicago’s once infamous towering high-rise housing projects, and the consequent displacement of almost 200,000 poor and mostly unemployed and under-employed black people, also has been a major factor. These people were promised “vouchers” and “scattered site” housing prior to eviction from their units. Vast numbers received either nothing at all or grossly inadequate funds with which to secure suitable housing.
And so they scattered all right – right into the once economically steady black working and middle class neighborhoods of Chicago.
According to the National Review Online the very word “Chicago”…."has become a metonym for the ‘the Obama campaign’; … a clever dog-whistle employed by conservatives in lieu of saying ‘black people’; and to anyone who has been watching the crime statistics, it is another word for ‘politically corrupt murder zone’.”
Indeed, according to ABC News, “the Rev. Ira Acree of the Greater St. John Bible Church” (one of Chicago’s black “mega churches") considers there to be a ‘state of emergency.’”
Chicago’s freshman mayor and Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, has asked Obama “for federal agents and U.S. Marshals to help combat the city’s wave of violence.” Will his next move be to request the National Guard? How about just sending in the 101st Airborne and be done with it? It's that deep around here, really.
So, given this dire situation at home, why has Mayor Emanuel led 50 Chicago cops to Charlotte, N.C., to help out at the Democratic National Convention this week?
Pat Camden is spokesperson for the Fraternal Order of Police. His question resonates a lot louder than mine: “We had two homicides and dozens of shootings this weekend, and we’re sending officers out of the city? I think the average person would shake his head over that.” He also could have mentioned the more than 20 lucky ones who were merely wounded by stabbings, beatings, hit-and-runs and lesser forms of mayhem this weekend.
Chicago police officials and city government honchos have a ready retort, though: The fifty cops sent to Charlotte are “on their days off and were not pulled off the street,” and are being paid by a federal grant that was specifically “earmarked” for convention security.
Yeah, but…Chicago is burning, while its mayor makes nice-nice with his fellow Democrats. (Emanuel spoke tonight at the convention). And fifty -- count 'em 50! -- of "Chicago’s Finest" are, in the minds of Chicago’s black South and West Side citizenry, AWOL as well.
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