Wednesday, January 22, 2020

‘We all pay the cost’ of city violence

     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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  1. I don't think we all pay for the violence prevalent in certain neighborhoods, certainly not to the extent the people in those neighborhoods pay. I suppose Dr. Voisin can make a dollar and cents argument that the violence impinges on the City's ability to borrow, raises tax and insurance rates, increases expenses for police and fire protection, etc. But only the paranoid in "safe" neighborhoods have to worry about their personal safety as much as those in "violent" areas, not to speak of the inferior education opportunities, inadequate commercial and public services, and the shame of feeling confined to a ghetto.

    Were any substantial number of middle and upper class whites exposed to the conditions among the enclaves of the needy, there would be a tremendous push to rectify the situation that might go beyond demanding long prison sentences for those who are as much victims as perpetrators.


  2. I get mighty tired of conservatives whose only response to the crime problem is "personal responsibility," meaning "it's not my problem." These people never want to hold affluent white businessmen, financiers, etc., personally responsible for the harm they cause, which in many cases is orders of magnitude greater than that of street crime.

  3. It may be correct that "the structural driver is a resource issue," but not entirely. I've felt safe in cities full of poor people. In the words of Seneca, "It's not the man who has too little, but one who craves more that is poor." Or as Adam Smith, writing in hard scrabble Scotland observed, "In the country of France the wearing of leathern shoes hath become a necessary of life." Bringing the sentiment up to date one might substitute the latest I phone or Air Jordan's.


  4. St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, and New Orleans had the four highest murder rates in 2018. Chicago was twelfth on the list of the top twenty most violent big cities (250,000 or more), ranking just behind Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Buffalo.

    I was not familiar with the African proverb: ”Until lions write their own history, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunters.” But it sounds a lot like the much-repeated: "History belongs to the victors." Same general idea.


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