You want less gun violence in Chicago? Hire somebody
Chicago’s Fourth of July weekend toll of shooting violence was horrific even by city standards. There were 82 gun-related incidents, with now 14 people dead, two of them 14- and 16-year-old boys shot by police when they refused to drop their weapons. In any other city, that would cause an uproar. Here in Chicago, it causes an uproar, but by now, it’s only in the neighborhoods affected and on the evening news, which overcovers the “if it bleeds, it leads” stories.
Local activists like the Rev. Michael Pfleger, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel all reacted. They talked about stiffer penalties for gun crimes. They have beefed up security, increasing overtime for police and are now talking about adding more officers, although that will be hard to do in a tight budget crunch.
Father Pfleger, who has led St. Sabina’s church on the South Side for many years and has been a leading voice against gun violence, sends out regular tweets with the gun violence toll. On his Facebook page, he wrote: “We send Billions of Dollars across the World in the Name of KEEPING AMERICA SAFE…..MESSAGE TO THE CONGRESS AND ADMINISTRATION, WITH 82 SHOT IN CHICAGO THIS WEEKEND OF WHICH 14 WERE FATAL ” AMERICA IS NOT SAFE.”
So — why? Why is there so much gun violence? A more important question is — what can anyone do about it?
I live in a mostly white but definitely mixed suburb of Chicago, mixed both racially and socioeconomically. We’re very near to Chicago’s West Side, which has lots of gun violence and a high crime rate — almost as high as certain neighborhoods on the South Side. Yet we have very little violence here. So what’s different?
Over the past few decades, businesses have fled the city and moved to far-out suburbs or even out of state by the promises of lower corporate taxes. Taxes might be lower, but what do they get for it, and what did they leave behind? They left behind a decimated work force with few jobs left and fewer opportunities to find one.
The overall unemployment rate in Chicago actually dropped last year. But it’s still very high on the South and West Sides. This map by the Workforce Information and Resource Exchange, an initiative of the Chicago Jobs Council, gives a breakdown of socioeconomic statistics in various Chicago neighborhoods. In Father Pfleger’s neighborhood near St. Sabina, unemployment is nearly 25 percent. In the violence-ridden Back of the Yards neighborhood, an area described as a “no man’s land” by The Chicago Tribune, it’s nearly 35 percent. Most unemployment numbers on the South and West Sides hover close to 20 percent.
Contrast that to the whiter, more popular places to live in Chicago like Lincoln Park or Lakeview. Unemployment is less than five percent in each neighborhood.
So people need jobs. No surprise there — we’re just now digging out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. The problem for many in those high unemployment neighborhoods is that there are no jobs to be had anywhere close by.
During my commuting days, I always rode the CTA Green Line along the West Side. The worst sight was the old Brach’s candy factory, which closed its doors in 2001 after 76 years of making StarBrite Mints and Milk Maid Caramels, leaving 1,100 people out of work. The company moved most of its candy manufacturing to Europe.
Now, the old factory sits empty, a broken shell of a once-thriving company. Worse, the 12-story building is awash with gang signs and symbols. Who was there to stop any street gangs from tagging the building? No one.
I have a fantasy that someday I’ll win the Powerball lottery and buy the old factory, turning it into a green energy plant that will give training and work to people on the West and South Sides, since it’s right by an El stop. Of course, I’ll get hit by lightening first.
We have a friend on the South Side named Shawn, a 40-year-old black man who has always struggled to find work. He’s a hard worker who has worked a series of jobs in various places around the city — when he can find them. More recently, though, the only places he sees hiring are out in the far west or northwest suburbs. How is someone who lives on 95th Street on the South Side who doesn’t have continued access to a car supposed to get to Elgin? Or Oak Brook? Or Schaumburg? The unemployment rate in his neighborhood, by the way, is nearly 20 percent.
At least he has access to a car. What is someone who doesn’t supposed to do when the only job available is 25 miles away, and the only way to get there is a 2 1/2-hour commute — or more — by a series of trains and buses? Whatever anyone says about the CTA, Metra, and Pace, the local public transportation train and bus services, they do have ways of getting from Point A to Point B. But it can take a long time.
No, there need to be more jobs available in the city itself. When people talk about investing in infrastructure, they should talk about starting businesses on the South and West Sides. People would line up at the door to apply.
I know about problems with the Chicago Public School system, and how many who do graduate aren’t always qualified for the jobs that are available. I know why companies that fled the city are happier in the far suburbs, where the owners live anyway.
But if you want to do something about gun violence, give those young men something to do besides join a gang. Shawn always tells us that the only two businesses in his neighborhood that do well are liquor stores — and funeral parlors. After a weekend like this, I’m not surprised.