Before I spoke with Dexter R. Voisin, I prepared by counting articles in that day’s Sun-Times. In the first 17 pages, there were 18 local stories.
Of those stories, eight — 44 percent — involved violence. Five people shot at a barbershop in East Garfield Park. A 23-year-old man shot and killed hours after an anti-violence rally. Two articles on years of legal ramifications following past homicides. The mayor spending $7.5 million on violence prevention. And more.
An average day. Or as Voisin, who spent 20 years as a professor at the University of Chicago studying urban violence, puts it in his new book, “America the Beautiful and Violent: Black Youth & Neighborhood Trauma in Chicago”: “The abhorrent has become the American norm.”
Well, the Chicago norm, anyway. New York and Los Angeles both seem to have discovered some anti-violence secret sauce that eludes us. In 2018, Los Angeles’ murder rate was 6.4 per 100,000 residents; New York’s was 3.7; Chicago’s was 20.7.
Not bad enough to put us in the top 10 (St. Louis, at No. 1, has triple our murder rate). But enough to wonder what’s wrong and how it can be fixed. Voisin, who last summer moved to Canada to be dean of the University of Toronto’s school of social work, sees Chicago urban violence as reflecting centuries of American political violence.
”This is really about resources,” said Voisin. “The structural driver of violence is really a resource issue. If you put white kids, Asian kids, any other group of individuals within these enclaves of need, you would have similar results.”
”Enclaves of need” is academic-speak for poor neighborhoods.
”These enclaves of need were created by America’s violent policies,” he said. “The lack of resources occur within a few ZIP codes. A small percentage of individuals drive gun violence and gang violence clustered within these abhorrent conditions.”
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