Yesterday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the city would be receiving federal assistance in violence reduction efforts. Chicago’s murder rate is up 31% this year and in an 8 day period last month, 82 people were killed or injured by gun violence. Here’s his quote about incorporating federal agencies into the city’s strategy to reduce these appalling numbers:
“These agencies have been incredible partners, and this decision shows their continued commitment to help expand successful crime reduction strategies here. These new efforts will help us make a larger impact in our work to keep gangs, guns and drugs off the streets.”
I know that this is a sound byte, and I know that due to our dwindling attention spans, statements like this are all we really expect from our politicians, but I want more. The language here bugs me, when I really parse it out:
“…our work to keep gangs, guns and drugs off the streets”
First, this phrasing gives no thought to the origins of said gangs, guns and drugs. It treats them as autonomous objects, sprung fully formed from the South and West Sides, instead of products of historic (and contemporary, in some cases) discrimination and systemic failure. Gangs do not spring up arbitrarily, they exist in communities and areas where there’s a vacuum of other community structures and standards. In most of these neighborhoods, the unemployment rate hovers between 40 and 50%.
Second, “keeping them off the streets” implies that making our issues less visible, less accessible, is progress. If you remove them from “the streets,” will be deposited elsewhere? If our problems are less visible on the “streets” are they less problematic? If you sweep dirt under a rug, is your house any cleaner?
Third, and my overarching issue here, is that this strategy addresses symptoms instead of root causes (poverty, inequality, lack of access to health care, education, safety). To be clear, the violence is an immediate problem that needs to be addressed now, for damn sure. But, the fact that we’ve reached a point when we have to invite federal agencies to stop the bleeding means we have failed, for decades now, to adequately address the causes of violence. We should be embarrassed. Call in the feds for a few weeks, police the streets, arrest some people, confiscate guns, impose a curfew, do what you will to make next month’s murder numbers look better than this month’s. But then what? Short term improvement on our violence statistics does nothing when you haven’t addressed why shit got bad in the first place.
I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, Rahm knows all this, he’s a pretty smart guy. You’re saying, it’s just a sound byte, it’s his “ten-word answer” (for you West Wing fans). You’d be right, but I don’t want a ten-word answer and I don’t want “Keep the gangs, guns and drugs off our streets” to substitute for a comprehensive, comprehensive set of initiatives aimed at the fundamental inequalities that leave people stranded with few resources and no reason to hope for more. I know, I know, I want too much. Ten words is all most of us will read anyway.
Related Post: There goes the neighborhood
Related Post: Chicago Maptastic