He also calls for an emergency Conference on Urban Violence
It’s still early, yet 2020 has already been one horrific bloody summer to remember in Chicago. Many in our economically challenged communities on the West and South sides are in a state of shock and are experiencing unbearable grief and anger, as a result of the onslaught of senseless violence over the last two weekends. Most of the time our rage and desperation prompt us to search for a quick fix or a silver bullet with the capacity to annihilate the problem, but it’s simply not that easy. It’s sad to say, but everyone seems to ignore the issues that got us here. It’s poverty and the systemic racism that has produced this ugly tale of two cities.
The residents on the South and West sides have been dealt a severe blow economically by the city of Chicago for years. While the North Side and downtown experience prosperity and economic boom, the other side of town is deeply entrenched in poverty, children are attending second-class schools, and are surrounded by boarded up buildings and empty lots. These communities have been the recipients of decades of intentional economic disinvestment. The last mayor, Mr. Rahm Emanuel, had the audacity to close 50 schools in primarily Black and brown communities. Also when you consider how TIF money has consistently been misused and diverted from creating capital for poor and blighted communities to supplementing projects in the more affluent neighborhoods of the city, it’s no wonder that the West Side is in dire straits and so many have become so desperate in their efforts of trying to survive.
All of the oppression and marginalization from the system has created the perfect storm of urban violence that we are witnessing right before our very eyes, which unfortunately includes seven children dead over a 10-day period. It’s shameful how so many bad decisions by generations of political leaders have turned our communities into war zones. Today I call upon the new leadership, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Governor JB Pritzker to make the long-term economic investments needed to end this evil, ugly and immoral tale of two cities. For starters, this will require substantial economic investment in housing, education, entrepreneurship, and overhauling of the TIF system. Of course, this is a long-range strategy but it’s imperative that it happens, or things will exacerbate.
I do believe there is one thing that could radically reduce the violence right now, in spite of the poverty and desperation, and that is improving the city’s abysmal homicide clearance rate. When murderers know that they can commit a crime and the percentages suggest they will more than likely not be caught, it emboldens them. Superintendent David Brown and the Chicago Police Department must do a better job of solving crime, that’s non-negotiable.
The biggest deterrent for anyone committing a crime is the fear of being apprehended and punished. If there are no consequences for one who murders, the pattern will continue, and the violence will escalate. In our current context, people are afraid to report the perpetrators of crimes because of the fear of retaliation. I’m in the neighborhood, and many decent people often say they would love to report but they don’t believe the city, county or federal government will protect them. People in the ‘hood wholeheartedly believe in the old adage that “snitches get stitches.”
Our real challenge in solving crimes is not breaking the code of silence, but it’s actually breaking the culture of fear. The way this could be immediately addressed is by putting the needed resources behind creating a viable “Witness Protection Program” that people can trust and believe in. People need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that when they turn in a cold- blooded murderer, they will not be left alone but will have protection and resources to safeguard them, and access to financial resources if relocation is necessary.
Finally, I call upon Mayor Lightfoot and Governor Pritzker to host an emergency conference on urban violence, within the next five days, with West Side and South Side community stakeholders. The most engaged and committed representatives from all institutions should be present, including mental health professionals, business leaders, faith leaders, educators, police, activists, gang leaders, and grass roots social service organizations. This select group of individuals must be locked up in a room for a day or so, with the charge of coming back with short- and long-term solutions for reducing the violence. If we don’t move with a sense of urgency, the bloody summer will continue, and we run the risk of losing more lives to the violence, particularly innocent children like 3-year-old Mekhi James; the 20-month-old in Englewood; the 10-year-old in Logan Square and 13-year-old Amaria Jones, who I have the task of eulogizing this week.
Pastor Ira Acree
Greater St. John Bible Church