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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