Chicago Gun Violence Myths 3: Arrest the Druggies!

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Rahm Emanuel was notably absent from a vigil for 11 year old Shamiya Adams, shot in an apartment during a sleepover with friends this weekend in Garfield Park, Chicago. T0 be frank, I can understand him not wanting to go; residents are restless and they blame Rahm for much of the violence. I can also understand not wanting Rahm to come – the mayor is a media hog and has a few times taken such opportunities to blame the victims of gun control in an apparent bid to win over journalists and to remove his own culpability in the violence. But his policies, particularly the Broken Windows policy of policing are probably more responsible than gangbangers and definitely more responsible than community members for gun deaths and shootings.

When he – rarely – shows up at these communities where death is unfairly visited, Mayor Emanuel tends to ask “Where is the community? Where are the parents?” And when I hear that, at first I’m furious. He is, after all, blaming victims for the crimes perpetuated on them at the same time that he ignores the activists in the community and at the same time that his police are directed to ostracize entire communities and when people are just plain worn out.

But then I think about the words in the questions themselves. “Where are the parents? Where is the community?”

The answer, Rahm Emanuel is “You locked them up, brah.” You disappeared them in your Broken Windows strategy of your War on Drugs and left them little choice, Mayor Emanuel. As we talked about briefly last week, the Broken Windows theory that Chicago’s Chief of Police adheres to – and therefore the CPD acts in accordance to – teaches that crime follows untidiness as both are linked to civil unrest. There are no small crimes in Broken Windows ideology for every crime leads to another one. Drug dealing and usage aren’t muggings and murder, but, the thinking is, they lead to it so they should be treated with absolute seriousness.

But more to the point, when these petty or nonviolent laws are enforced, they tend to target people of color. And while people can say, “If you don’t want to do the time, don’t do the crime,” that’s usually much easier for White people to adhere to than Black people. I hear much more lawlessness and drug and alcohol abuse from White friends than from Black and Latino ones. Even when laws that are unfairly targeted towards Black and Latino people are scaled back, they’re still disproportionately targeting Black and Latino populations. A couple of years ago, Emanuel promised to decriminalize weed. The police have the option in Chicago to ticket rather than jail anyone caught with a half-ounce or less of marijuana. Very, very few of the ticketed perps were POC. Black and Latino people are arrested rather than served tickets for drug usage in clear preferential treatment for White people. Black and Brown neighborhoods like Humboldt Park, Garfield Park and North Lawndale saw low-level marijuana arrest rates at three to six times as high as the rest of the city. In fact, according to the Chicago Reader:

Though studies have found similar marijuana usage rates across racial groups, 78 percent of those arrested since August 2012 for carrying small amounts of pot were black, according to police department data. Another 17 percent were Hispanic, and just 4 percent were white—virtually the same breakdown as before the new possession ordinance went into effect.

I’ll let those numbers sink in a bit. Nearly TWENTY times as many black people as white got arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana – not for selling or for pushing and not for large amounts. And four times as many Latinos. Even though white non-Hispanics make up the largest demographic of the city with 45% of the population. Black non-Hispanics make up only 32.9% and Latinos of all races make up 28.9% of the population according to the census. Which means that if you’re Black and holding 2 grams of marijuana, you are 27 times more likely to be arrested for that than if you’re White.

Let’s say that again. A black person holding 3 grams of marijuana is not 26% more likely than a white person doing same to get arrested, not even 260% more likely. A black person holding small amounts of marijuana is two thousand, six hundred percent (2,600%) more likely to be arrested than a white person for the same crime – despite the fact that they commit the same crime at the same rate.

This comes through explicit targeting.

So white people and brown people are treated vastly different for participating in the same things. Go to a public gathering and watch white people light up and notice how the cops are not acting in regards to those “broken windows.”

This is the Broken Windows policy that Chicagoans live under. And I wonder if the term is supposed to apply to the communities that it targets.

This is not new in the least.

This is a large part of the criminalization and economic ostracization for communities of color in Chicago and many of its problems in the long and short term stem from that – destabilization of the home and business sectors, detaining mass groups of people in jails and prisons, simultaneously refusing them money-making opportunities while pressing together sanctioned gang-recruiting opportunities. Often if they are released, even for nonviolent charges, their options for seeking jobs become limited due to a criminal record, recorded inconsistency, limited mobility. Sometimes, just due to association based on geography, POC in Chicago have to worry about getting around. If one of the primary breadwinners in the family is put on ice for months and years at a time, that makes things harder on the family as well as the community, leaving each less well-off, with fewer reserves and resources for the next crisis.

And it becomes little wonder that people in these families turn to selling drugs. For many, it’s obvious that their existence is already considered outside of the law. Windows are broken because no one is left to continue paying to fix them.

So, as much as I hate drugs and what they do to people, we really need to stop hating on people for turning to one of the only available economic resources available to them. And while efforts to maintain control of certain markets is a part of what fuels gun violence in Chicago, drug selling or use isn’t the primary cause of the violence. But the chaos coming from the War on Drugs/Broken Windows is much more directly involved. The simple economic facts are astoundingly against poor people and their communities for doing the same drugs that upper middle class and richer people do. I hear white hipsters telling the same drug and drinking anecdotes that poor people do, yet poor people – and particularly poor people of color – are often severely penalized economically and judiciously for the very same actions that more privileged people do.

How many executives or middle managers have to submit to drug tests, either randomly or for hiring purposes? How much easier is it to hide functioning problems with money versus not having enough wealth and resources to cover up weaknesses? How much more likely that a poor person will be suspected of doing drugs while a wealthier person is expected to be “above it all”? Even if caught and arrested, how much more will a poor person spend in jail for doing the same drugs that a man or woman with a connected lawyer can easily beat them off the charges while the suspect continues with life?

You may ask what all of this has to do with the shootings?

First, we must recognize that incarceration leads to destabilization and poverty. Destabilization and poverty are large-scale acts of violence and people who regularly are subject to large-scale systemic violence tend to internalize the violence and act out in various ways, are more susceptible to be perpetrators and victims of random acts of violence. So that’s a starting point. Secondly, it should be obvious that jails and prisons are recruiting centers for criminal activity. A person locked up for petty and non-violent crime is more likely to head into harder crimes as a result of the kind of hotbed that jails and prisons are. So, that was un-genius. Third, incarceration is seen as the antidote for crime so other measures are not employed to curtail violent crimes. Throwing them away and locking the key may take some of the principal subjects out of the field (and that’s necessary at times, though not at the rate that the US is practicing, for sure), but it doesn’t deal with any of the root problems. As we talked about last week, it only makes it worse.

Consider the discrepancy in the charges between crack and cocaine – which started under Reagan’s War on Drugs. One drug was just a cheaper version of the other and much of the hype surrounding crack was just that, hyperbole. Particularly, hyperbole directed at inner city black people – describing users as super predator zombies, acting as if a new generation of useless babies were to grow up, lifeless.

Ending the War on Drugs will help – or at least ending locking up people for possession of drugs. The effects won’t be immediate, though. But all of this unequal  locking up of black and Latino people has been further destabilizing communities and families of color. And it needs to end.

– The concluding part of this series will look at ways to curtail the shootings, both in the short and long term, including an interrogation of gun control legislation (and the old conservative argument of “Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the US but blahblahblah”). The two previous parts of this series were on racism being the main cause of the shooting violence in Chicago and the second on how hyperbole is leading outsiders to call in the National Guard to lay siege to us. Which, y’know, doesn’t help either.


When he’s not riding both his city’s public transit system and evil mayor, Jasdye teaches at a community college and writes about the intersection of equality and faith - with an occasional focus on Chicago - at the Left Cheek blog and on the Left Cheek: the Blog Facebook page. Check out more from Jasdye in his archives as well!


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  • Jim Bean

    This is the cart before the horse. The boy grew up with no father because Left-wing ‘sensitivity’ and ‘political correctness’ made it inappropriate to criticize the father for being shiftless. Said boy, without parental guidance and left to his own devices, grew into a drug dealer who fathered the next generation of fatherless drug dealers before landing in jail for his crimes. Furthermore, the author acknowledges (correctly) that incarceration leads to destabilization and poverty in the incorrect context that drug addiction (by omission) does not. And finally, Chicago is an unadulterated bastion of Democratic Party policy making reaching its full potential.

    • Uh, the father is there. The father is there until incarceration. Please drop the racial myths already. Black people aren’t fatherless until the state takes the parents away for petty crimes that it won’t lock up white people for.

      • Jim Bean

        Dream on. Most fatherless black children are fatherless from the moment of conception.

      • Cemetery Girl

        I am white and I’m disgusted by that comment. Abandoning children isn’t “a black thing”, it happens across the color lines. It is a struggle for any mother to receive support for her kids from a father that refuses to do so.

      • Jim Bean

        Most fatherless black children are fatherless from the moment of conception. Many fatherless children of all races are fatherless at the moment of conception. Black children are disproportionately fatherless at birth compared to other races. There. Are you less disgusted with me?

      • Cemetery Girl

        Does skipping out on a child hurt less if the father does so after the child is born? (Hint: it doesn’t.) There are males (can’t even call them men) of all races that vanish as soon as they hear the pregnancy test is positive. There are males of all races that vanish as soon as the relationship with the mother ends. In all honesty, new girlfriends (of all races) sometimes discourage interaction with the children because they want all ties with the mother to be cut. (As a female, it bothers me that some females are like this, but they are.) We have a problem in this country with too many fathers not being the daddy they should be. It isn’t a race issue, it is an issue for the best interest of children. I think it’s unfair to be hard on black men (because yes, there are plenty that love and take care of their children) and ignore other races (namely, white, and for the record I am white) for not taking care of the children they create. I don’t have enough fingers to count the friends I have (white) that their children are not supported (financially or emotionally) by their fathers. When the mothers pursue the child support or visitation that has been ignored they’re told that there’s nothing that can be done. This hurts the child, not just the financial impact of the child support, but the hurt of growing up wondering why doesn’t your father care? There is a lot of talk (regarding abortion) about women living up to their responsibility if they spread their legs, but men must be responsible also. Treat every intercourse as a possibility of creating a child. If you have no desire to be a daddy then don’t have sex, or in the very least use a condom despite the female saying she’s on birth control. There are just too many kids (of all races) that are being hurt by a father not caring at all what happens to them.

      • Jim Bean

        You’re a good and thoughtful Cemetery Girl and I agree with all that you say. I single out blacks because of their disproportionate rate of single parenthood.

      • Cemetery Girl

        Thank you Jim, but we can’t single out a race. All men need to have their act together. Single parents have become common. Between divorce and having children out of wedlock single parenting has become pretty typical. You’ve got me wondering if there’s some statistics on this matter (although that would be tough to compile.) It would be interesting to find out statistically at what point men that abandon their kids do so.

      • Jim Bean

        We CAN single out a race. We MUST single out a race. We CANNOT excuse the most significant component when searching for solutions simply because race is the component. And just so we’re clear. I place zero blame on the blacks. All the blame for the plight of the black community falls upon liberals and the Democratic Party who (for political gain) perpetuate the notion that blacks are being victimized and that they cannot succeed without the help that the Democrats continually promise, but cannot, and never do deliver. It defeats them and robs them of the incentive to work towards their own successes and it fuels anger at the system that they’ve been persuaded to think is ultimately responsible for their personal well being.

      • Cemetery Girl

        No, we can’t single out a race. How can we look at a black man that neglects his child and berate him and tell him to take responsibility and not let the government contribute financially yet tell a white guy “it’s cool bro, we know she was only supposed to be a booty call”? No. We need to tell all men to take care of their children. It doesn’t matter if she was just meant to be a one time hook up. It doesn’t matter if the relationship ended and you can’t stand her. It doesn’t matter if your new girlfriend or your momma or your friends cousin doubts you’re the dad (question it, get a paternity test!) It doesn’t matter if you don’t want your girlfriend or wife to find out you were fooling around on the side. No whining that you only did her once, didn’t bother with protection, and just because she didn’t want to have an abortion then you should be obsolved of responsibility. White guys use excuses too. If the claim is that black men have been taught by society that neglecting their parental responsibility is acceptable and they need to stop it, why should we show white men that it is ok for them to do?

      • Jim Bean

        I agree with you when you say ALL men must be told to take care of their children. But there is one group that cannot be told because it violates political correctness and causes the one doing the telling to be called a racist unless he’s a member of that race and few members of that group are willing to do that with any enthusiasm. (Yes, I know occasionally there are a few who do.) Consequently, the problem exists disproportionately among that group.

      • Cemetery Girl

        Well, apparently despite being liberal I’m not politically correct because I will tell a guy to take care of his kids. I don’t care what race he is, I don’t accept the excuses. I don’t know why, but strangers open up to me, and I’ve had guys that I just met tell me all the reasons why they don’t see their kids or pay child support. I’ve told them to straighten out their life, pay what they owe, and fight to see them. If they can’t do that they don’t care. If they can’t try they don’t care. Some men don’t care, and they’ll be honest about it. It is pathetic but at least they’re honest. Men that have 101 excuses why they neglect their children and complain that they’d like to be involved, I get rather irate. Political correct be damned, although it isn’t incorrect if you are calling out all men that abandon their children and not just a certain group. Heck, I’ll even go a step further in correctness and say call out the women that abandon their children for the father or other family member to raise them. There is a disproportionate amount of men that abandon their children, but we will be fair and call women out also.