Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Cops not only answer to Chicago violence

     High school students volunteer more nowadays than when I was a kid.  No so much because they’re better than we were, though I think they are. Their schools not only make them do it, but colleges also expect it. Setting aside the conundrum of mandatory volunteerism, it is interesting to see the projects students come up with. Last weekend a pal of my older son’s threw a charity chess tournament. Another dug out buckthorn in a Cook County forest preserve.
     My high school senior wondered what he should do and I suggested The Night Ministry, the last line defense providing health care and food to Chicago’s impoverished and downtrodden. They have a mobile medical clinic on a bus that goes around the city. Volunteers—often from church groups—coordinate to be at each stop, waiting with food.
     Some of the stops require 200 meals, but Back-of-the-Yards is new on their circuit, so they suggested 20 suppers, which seemed more doable for an 18-year-old’s meal-making skills. He needed a helper to hand out the food, so I went along. It seemed prudent.
      Being a meticulous sort, I built in extra time for traffic. But 94 was fairly clear, so we got to the corner of 54th and Halsted at 8:15, a half hour early. Nothing to do but park and wait. The boy popped on his reading light and lost himself in his New Yorker. I watched the street scene, which was largely empty. Weedy lots, a bar of some kind directly ahead, people coming and going.
     The thing that really struck me were the police. Squad cars came by every minute or two. Up and down Halsted. Cruising in from side streets. One stopped for a long time in the alley across the lot to our right.
     Lots of cops. Still, most of the time, the cops weren’t there. Chicago is an enormous place. And it occurred to me, that the violence, which seems poised to explode this summer—Chicago had one weekend with 52 shootings in April—is presented as a police problem. If we get X amount of police to do Y, then this will get better. I’m not so sure that’s true. I think it’s more a case of police being one of the few things that can actually be controlled by the city. Focusing on police is an example of the adage, When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
     When people ask me my thoughts, I say "jobs." People with jobs are less inclined to go around shooting others randomly. I thought that was the smart, informed reply, but with a dozen shootings some nights, it also seems so hopelessly long-term as to be almost callous. Sure, good jobs would help. So would a pony. Guys won't be shooting so much if they're tending to their ponies.
     Part of me wants to say, "try everything." Curb the illegal guns flowing into the city, seize the ones already here, mobilize churches, prod fearful neighborhoods to take back their streets from gang-bangers and support their efforts with police.
     Another part wants to observe that this isn't something officialdom is going to sweep in and fix. Just as civil rights progress took countless individual acts of courage among people who sat down at lunch counters, in the front of buses, refused to be second-class citizens, so stemming violence is going to take individuals putting themselves at risk by standing up.   Kids shooting at each other are being failed by their families—heck, the fact that a 14-year-old was, allegedly, given the gun she used, supposedly, to kill her friend, should be a cause of echoing shock. Not shrugged off and forgotten. People in Englewood and Roseland need to realize this: The rest of the city doesn't care, not really, because it's not happening to them. Expressions of concern are mostly disingenuous attempts by people to wash their hands of the problem and feign compassion. Residents must be the ones who care. If family, friends and neighbors of a kid hanging with gangbangers won't stop him, what am I supposed to do?
     I'm not saying it's easy. But this problem needs a cultural shift. I've seen Chief Keef videos extolling guns and the thug life. I've never seen a comic mocking gangs, and how inhuman and idiotic they are. I don't think ridicule is going to end gang violence. But it is part of the "try everything" program.
     When I asked the boy what he took away from his Night Ministry experience, at first he just shrugged, as teens do. What about the people begging for an extra sandwich, I asked? The one instruction we were given about handing out meals was that people would ask for more than one, and we weren't to give in. As it was we were stripped of every scrap we brought and had to use the reserves on the bus. One man refused to budge. "Please," he said, staring hard at us, hand out. "Please. Please." We stood our ground; other people were in line. What about that part? I asked my son. Well, yeah, he said, there was that.


  1. I think you've mistaken this for the Occupy Chicago blog. I'd react, but I don't think you really believe that. It's just something jarring -- and stupid -- to say.

  2. How about we try all those extra cops FIRST before just assuming they won't be effective? Indeed, if police presence makes so little difference, why are the rich neighborhood aldermen always crying whenever it's suggested that police forces be diverted? You don't have to be an Occupy type to suspect that a lot of the defeatism is driven by race. If a soupcon of this level of violence was going on in Northbrook do you think they'd be wringing their hands about the necessary level of policing to stop it? Or would they be demanding that the state guard either 1) come patrol the streets or 2) work desk jobs to free up the trained police to get on the street (another thing that has been suggested and summarily rejected rather than even TRYING it).

    Another thing is African-American unemployment is at 38%. Karen Lewis squawks about making "heroes" of commodity traders to help bail out the pension fund - given these levels of violence if the city is going to find extra revenue they should go towards a youth jobs program before CTU sees a dime of it.

    1. This is why I don't like anonymous quotes -- I assume you're not the same "Anonymous" as the guy who posted about the "racist killer cops." And that you have a good point. I'm sure a lot of this is because it's expected there.

  3. You're right (re: Anon 9:55 not the same as Anon 6:44) - I'll be sure to distinguish in the future!

    1. Perhaps a nom de guerre. "Cincinnatus" or some such thing.

  4. Another comment: seems like there used to be more opportunities for white suburbanites (as I was) to volunteer in bad neighborhoods. For example, in the 80s there was a group that advertised on WBBM-AM for volunteers - I forget their name but once I signed up and went with them to Bronzville where they had struck a deal with the CHA to clean up rancid units in retirement housing after the occupants passed away (these units would go unused because CHA didn't have the budget to clean them quickly enough themselves). (Volenteers were given a sandwich and the other residents come by and ask for the extras - we also got a WBBM newsradio shirts, which I used to wear to the Lounge Axe as a kind of contrarian statement against the ubiquitous black...) Mary Mitchell ran a piece this week about a guy just trying to clean up trash in the neighborhoods. I bet if there were easier ways for suburubanites and others to help out they would - there would probably be some "cultural tourism" involved but so what? Maybe some sense of connection would be formed.

  5. I don't believe the answer to ending the violence can be found in blaming politicians, or in how many police are assigned. It can't be done with threats or force. It has to come from a desire which can only be found within the individuals involved; the residents, parents and youth leaders of neighborhoods. To care about human life requires finding value in yourself and others. Perhaps some type of reward system to give incentive and pride in communities. If we could solve the problem of guns and drugs, there would be hope. But sadly, that's not the case.

  6. I have written about this before. When I first came to Chicago, I was at the Catholic Worker on 51st and Laflin. Two things I noticed, garbage and the lack of greenery. So I started on the garbage part where I was. I had envisioned a march on garbage where volunteers just cleaned up lots en masse like a march on Washington. You could literally vacuum the garbage up. So the first part is that citizens need to start where they are and then get someone to do the same. I then thought about a Violence Hotline as a way to at least make an attempt to put a ding into the killings. Restorative Justice? I continue to think that the CPD could do a better job at allowing the public to know that crime doesn't pay. This could be done via facebook alerts and social media. We need to be able to break the silence of the snitch code. Maybe a site dedicated to those who are arrested would dissuade individuals from wanting to do the same. Pfleger has offered $5,000 to find a gun runner. It isn't enough. Major Businesses and Insurance companies should be matching his proposal; yet, how many will? Thanks for your service with Night Ministry.

  7. Look at a world map.

    Chicago is equal with Iceland.

    Move now. Run, don't walk out of the state. Quinn's liars will tell pensions have been reformed. LIE. Judge just stopped Quinn. Quinn has no plans or values...just a taker.

    Reminds me of someone who got his bro a job at the expense of honest applicant.
    How do you live with your (morally) bankrupt selves? Who to swim, forever.

    H. Ula.

  8. Neil, once again you assume that people who sharply disagree with you and your assumptions couldn't possibly believe what they say but are just trolling. And yes, I supported Occupy, but it didn't go far enough.

  9. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. And I direct people who are harsh or jerkish to Eric Zorn's blog. I don't want them to be comfortable here.


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