More Americans have died in the city of Chicago (351) than US troops in Afghanistan last month (245). Last Friday Aug. 31, in 24 hours six people were killed and 12 wounded as a result of shootings in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood of Chatham. As of Aug. 29, there have been a reported 55 deaths resulting from shootings in Chicago, making the month of August the year’s deadliest so far. As the murder rate continues on its predicted track to exceed last year’s numbers by 16 percent (according to Chicago crime data), Chicagoans are left to wonder why the recent spike in homicides continues to plague the city.
Some articles and publications suggest that the surge in citywide violence is a result of this summer’s record-breaking temperatures, but for some, I hope, this explanation reflects a willful ignorance that allows citizens to dismiss the plethora of socio-economic and political problems facing Chicago.
Sociologists generally agree that the main reasons for gang membership involve issues of camaraderie, income and protection. So it comes to no surprise that in south, southwest, and west side neighborhoods of Chicago, where poverty rates are among the highest in the country and where, in some cases, 100 percent of students qualify for the Chicago Public School’s free lunch program, that many are resorting to illegal activity as a source of stability. In an interview with an active gang affiliate (who will be referred to as Carlos for his protection), a native of Chicago who was recently released from jail on charges of drug possession, I asked, “Why do you still deal drugs even after having already gone to jail?” His response was, “In a week, working a minimum wage job I make around $375. When business is good, I can make that in two or three days from slanging [selling] drugs.”
Employment levels for black men in the city of Chicago ages 16-64 came to a distressing 48.3 percent in 2010, according to the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee Center for Economic Development. On top of that, most of the jobs located in these poverty-stricken areas provide very low wages, few benefits and little-to-no-room for economic advancement. So for all of the self-righteous, “self-made” people out there who blame the jobless for their own hardships, I would kindly ask them to explain to the staggering amount of unemployed citizens why there are scarcely any jobs for them in the first place- if finding a job is so much easier than the economic reports are making it out to be, please offer a few tips to the 30,000 people who applied to a Costco near Chicago’s West Side, of which only 130 applicants were hired. The fact is that Chicago is failing to provide the impoverished with an economic system where they can actually succeed, and as a result, many have no choice but to turn to gangs and illegal activities to survive.
So now, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel appoints a new deputy mayor to deal with the economic tasks facing Chicago, we must take it upon ourselves to ask the right questions. How will we provide incentives to encourage business establishments in areas where there is little to no work? How can we improve the Chicago Public School System to prevent dropouts? How do we encourage investors to utilize the multitude of vacant lots and foreclosed homes which are often used for illegal activities?
One thing is for sure: As the gap between the rich and poor gets bigger and unemployment levels continue to stagnate, I highly doubt we can expect any improvements when it comes to gang violence in the city of Chicago.
by Timmy Rose