I left Chicago over a year ago, and somehow it still feels like I am reading a magazine, blog or newspaper piece about the rates of violence in Chicago, at least once a week…
Most of it is exaggerated, and the narrative seems to be a go-to for writers who need a sensationalist headline. The problem of gun-violence is real, but it’s a problem that plagues the entire country, not simply Chicago.
Anyway… luckily, there are some journalists out there doing great work on Chicago, the south side, and violence in particular. Natalie Moore, the writer of a recent Ebony [print] piece, is a great example. In a recent article she reaffirms a central point:
Chicago isn’t the most violent city in America.
Yet somehow the gun violence here has captured the attention of the nation. Staggeringly violent situations and horrific murder statistics—506 killed in 2012—only add to the city’s historical stigma as the place where Al Capone and later on, Black gangsters ruled (Moore, 2013)
The violence is real, and the stigma is real, the question is… what is the answer?
I can tell you one thing: it’s not increased policing.
In a city with a long history of police torture and violence, there is virtually no trust in Chicago police throughout black neighborhoods. This presents an obvious, but familiar problem: if you can’t trust the police, how do you stop the violence?
In Golden Gulag, Ruth Wilson Gilmore presents data that shows that “jurisdictions that have not built a lot of prisons and thrown more people into them, have enjoyed greater decreases in crime than states where incapacitation became a central governmental activity” (15).
Why? Because when neighborhoods start to lose large chunks of the population to policing and imprisonment, those spaces struggle to remain financially and emotionally solvent.
The bottom line? Greater policing and imprisonment doesn’t decrease crime
In fact, research by scholars like Political Scientist Traci Burch show that high levels of imprisonment actually destabilizes the political capacity of citizens.
Research shows that increased use of policing and state intervention in everyday problems hasten the demise of the informal customary relationships that social calm depends on (Gilmore, 16).
This especially relevant when article’s like Moore’s and the recent New York Time’s piece demonstrate that a good chunk of the violence isn’t from gang disputes, it’s about interpersonal arguments.
“The Violence is more about personal things then gangs,” Latiker says. Its juvenile. Things such as someone looked at someone’s sister wrong. Chicago police, she says, are quick to label all violence as gang-related (Moore, 2013).
When you are constantly in fear that your neighbor is going to call the police on you, it becomes a challenge to “talk things out.” The fear that is developed of the police, your neighbor, and the random guy walking down the street that you’ve never seen before, creates a shoot first and ask questions later type of mentality.
To put it simply, increased policing handicaps everyday conflict management
As a result, organizations like Man Up! Have been exceptionally successful because they focus on talking things out whenever a dispute arises.
The authority of the Man Up! workers is “based on trust,” Mr. Watson said. “That people don’t see us as police officers. We don’t share any information with the police. Our job is to stop the shooting and killing. Minimize it” (Dwyer, 2013).
All of this is confirmed by my research on black women in public housing: interpersonal relationships and sense of connection to the neighborhood is central to staying safe physically and emotionally.
At the end of the day, the bottom line is this: if we want to solve the problem of violence in black neighborhoods, we need more jobs, social resources and organizations that are committed to helping neighbors feel connected to their homes and each other.
Moore, Natalie. “48hrs in Chicago.” Ebony Magazine. print. August 2013
Dwyer, Jim. “No Shootings or Killings for 363 Days, but the Fight is Far From Over.” New York Times, online. July 18, 2013
Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. University of California Press. 2007