As of late, many people have weighed in on the gang violence in Chicago. We are under a microscope (after all we are Obama's hometown), to make it even more interesting our Mayor was his former Chief of Staff -- Rahm Emanuel. Our city has become an emblem for liberalism, a favorite for the media to focus on. And what do they write about? Gangs of course and the correlating murder rate. Every single gang murder in this city is splashed on the front page of many news organizations, including this one, and it truly makes those of us who live here angry and frustrated because we know that this city could be as safe as any big city.
We do have gangs, just like Los Angeles and New York. And there is gang activity, and most of the violence you hear about is in fact gang-related, tucked away in those neighborhoods far from the rest of the city. It is so easy to become numb to the reports of the shootings. I happen to be married to a trauma surgeon and it always shocks me when he runs out of the house to treat a gun shot wound to the chest. I never get used to it and it makes me sad every time.
Many of these shootings happen in Englewood -- the famed heart of the south side of Chicago, it is a crime-ridden area, and the people who live in Englewood are living in poverty and are trapped in this cycle of violence and economic disparity. It seems like they have no hope to improve.
My family is from Englewood. My grandfather settled there in his youth. My dad and uncles shared a home at 79th and Racine. They were happy. All my siblings were born in Englewood Hospital, which closed in 1988. The neighborhood used to be robust and safe. Historically, Englewood accepted people of all kinds -- Irish immigrants dominated the neighborhood but there were also Swedes and Germans, in addition there were a lot of African Americans who moved to Chicago from the South during the Great Migration and many of them settled in Englewood.
Towards the early- to mid-70s, the neighborhood changed. It was less prosperous and it was in a decline, and my family moved out of the city to the suburbs before I was even born. Like any family, they were concerned about safety and the increasing crime rates. My family wasn't alone, those who had the means moved out of Engelwood seeking jobs and stability. Englewood was becoming a poverty-stricken area. The late Mayor Daley made some efforts revitalizing the 63rd and Halsted shopping area, but it was all too little to late. The businesses were leaving and so were the people. In sharp contrast the Bridgeport area -- where the Daley family lived -- was thriving with businesses and economic success, and a lot of attention from the Mayor.
Today, Englewood needs attention from leadership more than ever. I believe areas like Englewood CAN be revitalized, they can be fixed, but it takes leadership and this leadership needs to start from the Mayor on down. There needs to be a comprehensive plan of action, that means the City Councilmen, Community leaders and the Mayor need to sit down allocate money from the budget for a citywide rebirth of the south side of Chicago. Yes, we can stop building parks and send that money to the areas that really need it. No more, that's not my neighborhood, I don't care. Those days should be over. It has been ignored for too long, and it is time for a change. This is the City's problem.
What the city plan for the rebirth of the south side of Chicago should cover:
Economics of the Neighborhood
Lift these neighborhoods out of the deep economic disparity they are in now which make them susceptible to the gang life style -- job programs, family counseling programs, business incentives, parenting programs that SPECIFICALLY target and are tailored for these impoverished minority areas need to be implemented. The people there need to be TRAINED on a completely new lifestyle. They need gang detox.
We need police to take these areas seriously. Not only do we need more police, but they need to be trained on these types of neighborhoods. They need to CARE about them. They need to provide security, and provide a plan for prevention of future proliferation of gangs. And the police need to be held accountable, from the top brass to the bottom--if you can't give these neighborhoods security, then we need to find people who can.
A Plan for the Future
Everyone needs direction, and these neighborhoods are no different. And typically when people think of the future they automatically think of the youth. We need to provide the youth of these neighborhoods a future other than gangs. What do they want to be in the future, what do they want to contribute to the city? What will they have to offer? What can we offer THEM? Do they have access to good schools? Nothing will get better until the children of these areas are raised in a stable, violence free neighborhood with opportunity. A gang should never be an option for them.
There are over 100 gangs in Chicago, with thousands of members. This problem is too massive for any community group or program to solve. As of now, it is only programs like this that are being used to combat gang activity in Chicago, programs like Ceasefire -- a violence intervention program. These small, grass-roots programs like Ceasefire are not enough. This problem is too massive for a few people to solve.
Leadership -- starting at the level of mayor, but involving all in our city government -- needs to take charge, develop a plan, and take our neighborhoods back. It is about time.