By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin’s (1st) $50 million jobs and community stabilization plan received a huge boost from a number of neighborhood groups, a congressman, a former head of DEA and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who said, “We can’t arrest our way out” of the escalating crime.
Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. and supporters made their remarks during a press conference held over the weekend at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters, 930 E. 50th St. Boykin’s plan would be paid for from a $0.04 per gallon special-use gas and fuel tax.
Jackson is leading a rally to support Boykin’s proposal, which includes $45 million for jobs for youth between the ages of 16-24; $2 million for parenting to prevent violence; $2 million for 15-20 Cook County sheriff police to be deployed in high crime areas; and $1 million to advocate for people with disabilities in suburban Cook County.
The disparity between Chicago’s neighborhoods is glaring, stated Jackson.
“On one side of town, there are 130 schools without libraries. We closed 50 public schools, closed 50 drug stores, 75 grocery stores in some of the poorest areas. “Poverty,” Jackson said, “is a weapon of mass destruction.”
“We don’t make guns in Chicago, nor do we have a gun range. We know guns are made in the suburbs, and we know where drugs come from. Drugs in, guns in, jobs out…a deadly solution,” Jackson told reporters. He hailed Boykin’s alternative plan as a viable solution to crime.
Saying too many of our communities have been devastated by gun violence, “persistent poverty, high unemployment and overall hopelessness,” Boykin said that is why he introduced the Community Stabilization and Anti-Violence Act for Cook County.
“We are in a state of emergency, a real crisis,” said Boykin. The Act is modeled after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) program and the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) program.
“What we’ve seen here are unemployment numbers that rival the Great Depression in too many of our communities across Cook County. Where we see the highest levels of unemployment, we also see the highest levels of violence, and we must attack that,” said Boykin. He urged the public to call Cook County commissioners and ask them to vote for his legislation.
On May 10, there will be a “Day of Action” where supporters will attend the 1 p.m. Cook County Finance Committee to oppose the redevelopment project of old Cook County Hospital, which will be redeveloped into a retail, hotel and housing complex.
“It is not a project of necessity. It’s a project of choice,” Boykin said. “The responsibility of Cook County Commissioners is to provide for the public health and safety of the citizens of Cook County, not to get involved in projects that will benefit big development.”
Boykin plans to vote against this bill. A protest against the hospital revitalization plan has been set for 11:30 a.m. on May 10. Boykin said the jobs plan is far more important.
Dart also endorsed Boykin’s plan. “We track people coming in and out of jails…including by their zip codes and the numbers are startling. The areas where you have the shootings are the areas where you have all the high unemployment. It’s literally connecting the dots. There is no mystery.”
Dart went on to say the only solution is a “thoughtful” jobs program, especially for the youth. Citing that homicides are up by 50 percent in Chicago and 25 percent in suburban Cook County, Dart stated Boykin’s plan “is the only thing that will solve this. Lives are wasted every minute we delay this.”
The sheriff said going to jail affects families and the crimes they commit are “minor and staggering” like property crimes and retail theft “where they are trying to survive. We’re the dumping ground for the mentally ill now.”
Jackson said if youth could help repair the 80,000 homes and vacant lots “there would be more jobs than people.” He urged the White House to use Chicago for a model for a White House conference on violence and urban reconstruction.”
Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-7th) said many officials talk about the issues, but not many come up with solutions. “Finding a job for many young people especially is like finding an old man’s teeth. They are few and far apart.” He praised Boykin for coming up with a viable solution.
Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church, said within a five-day period in March, he lost two members—one 16 and a 21-year-old; a mother of a 2-year-old killed while riding in a car. He thanked Boykin for his “courageous leadership” for introducing his jobs plan. “Unless we do something radical in this town, we’d better prepare for a blood bath.” He called Boykin’s plan “radical, righteous and it’s reasonable.”
Peter Bensinger, 80, said, he is proud to support Boykin’s bill. He once chaired the Youth Commission “and saw where these kids ended up in the prison system where the adults ended up. Violence and shootings are unacceptable, out-of-sight. We’ve had 1,000 so far this year, an 88 percent increase and over 160 murders, over a 70 percent increase.
“The gun courts need to do more and law enforcement and courts need to hold people accountable, but the real answer is in prevention and opportunities for young people. It’s jobs,” Bensinger said explaining that Boykin’s Act would keep youth out of jail.
Shari Runner, president/CEO Chicago Urban League, agreed. “We know as a group, there are 46,000 disconnected youth out of school and out of work in the city of Chicago. Between the ages of 19 and 24, 47 percent of those youth are unemployed and are forced into the underground economy, which is dangerous, which creates death and gun violence in our city.
“We know that jobs are a cure. It’s a big problem,” Runner said admitting the need to educate youth better and get guns out of the hands of the youth. She said it is key to “start to have a pathway for our youth that does not include a life of crime.”
Dr. Marjorie Fujara quoted statistics from the month of March which were “sobering.” She said they saw 90 children at the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center for allegations of sexual abuse when the average was 60. “On the hospital side, we were referred 52 children to be evaluated for abuse and neglect. We know that these problems co-exist with community violence.
“We know these things create toxic stress for children and disrupt their neural development. That makes it hard for them to pay attention and learn because they are so busy trying to pay attention to danger and survive. They can’t engage in nurturing, loving relationships if they are worried about their own survival,” Fujara said. She, too, supports Boykin’s “bold” proposal.
Gwendolyn Baxter, president of Sisterhood, is a mother who lost her son to gun violence.
“The person who killed my son was not pushing an 8-hour work day. He wasn’t punching a clock. Not one mother said that the person who killed their son had to get up and go to work the next day. It’s important to bring jobs into our community. When the cameras leave, the funerals are over with and the repast is done, we, as mothers, are left to deal with this—that our child is not coming back home. We have to bring jobs back.”