Ripping Apart the Chicago Gun Violence Myths, Part 1: Racism

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It seems that whenever there’s a spate of new gun violence in Chicago, automatically every person who has ever heard of the city yet never lived here – let alone in the neighborhoods where these shootings are predominately happening – calls for more blood and/or becomes an expert on what’s wrong in my city. The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley, for instance, says it’s black people’s fault they are getting shot because of their “ghetto culture” and “weak character.” His solution is to address “black pathology” and stop blaming other ills, like racism, the War on Drugs, or the justice system for Chicago gun violence. Obviously, it’s yet another easy misdirect.

Riley is just one of many people who talk about Chicago as if we were an abstract principle rather than real people, real lives, real neighbors, and real complexity. As if we are not in the same room and we can’t overhear the rest of the country treating us like children. I get it, 82 shootings and 14 deaths over an extended weekend are a lot for any area and there is this need to look at a problem and fix it. But some of the proposed “solutions” – by conservatives and even liberals – would actually make things worse than doing nothing different. I suggest that before we go headlong into exasperating the problem, let’s look at the issue from Chicagoans’ perspectives.

Today, we’ll focus on probably the largest root issue from which all other issues flow: The problem in Chicago isn’t black or brown people – the problem is the systemic racism focused on black and brown people in Chicago. Later in this mult-part series, we’ll cover gun laws, giving police and National Guard free sway over the city, and the War on Drugs.

Ultra-conservative WSJ editor Jason Riley – who is, incidentally, black – said that the problem isn’t economical nor is it the access to guns nor is it about the War on Drugs. He thinks crime in black neighborhoods is due to “ghetto culture” and “weak character.”

The problem is not our gun laws. Nor is it our drug laws, or racist cops, prosecutors and judges. The problem is black criminality, which is a function of black pathology, which ultimately stems from the breakdown of the black family. [emphasis mine]

So here we have anti-black racism from a conservative black man – but don’t let the fact that he is African American distract from that. White conservatism has long used ultra-conservative black voices to air White Supremacy views that the White elites share in secret but would be too ashamed to vocalize. Having these racist views come from people of color makes it much more palatable too – as though one person of color can represent all black persons (which is part of the reason white conservatives attack Jesse Jackson so vehemently while lifting up Thomas Sowell as a “good one”).

That White Supremacists believe that black people are inherently responsible for their own victimization to crime is not news. That some black people (like Don Lemon) repeat the same claims shouldn’t be surprising either. The fact that the Wall St Journal would publish such pieces only reinforces what we already knew to be true about the Rupert Murdoch Empire. But let’s lay this myth to rest, first and foremost – the black family is not broken, and people of color are not inherently evil or ignorant. If Riley wants to blame someone for black ghettos, he should start with the systemic disinvestment and theft from people of color done by elite whites.

Often when we talk about racism, we think of the Deep South. But Chicago is the most segregated city in the US. While the racism isn’t as obvious in some ways (racist slurs aren’t as likely to be employed by white strangers; politicians aren’t as likely to forward emails featuring President Obama as a witch doctor, etc.), people who live in the very communities most affected by the gun violence are very aware of how they are systemically denied access to proper health care; living wage jobs; jobs; career, educational, lending, entrepreneur opportunities; and high-quality schools. They are aware of how much more likely they are to receive police brutality, how much more likely they are to be falsely accused of crimes they didn’t commit, how much more likely they are to be incarcerated. Aware of how much harder it is to get and maintain equity. Of how much slower they are taken care of by first responders, but first to be pulled over. Last to get raises, first to be let go. Our community services are first to get shut off, our schools the first to close or “restructure.”

Due to the social and economic violence perpetuated on people of color, communities of color need more resources to stand a fighting chance, and yet receive fewer. For instance, when kids grow up among shooting violence and lose friends, relatives, and neighbors to murders and prisons, they need to be able to access mental health professionals in order to deal with their grief and trauma. To not have these tools available for children and youth is devastating and leads to untouched PTSD issues. This plays a factor in nearly every aspect of a person’s life, from romantic and familial relationships to scholastic and career endeavors. And yet, just as the violence started escalating again, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shut down half of all community mental health facilities.

Another example is in the fact that there are no fully operational trauma centers near where many of these shootings happen. Often, by the time an ambulance comes, picks up the victim, and brings her or him to a hospital that can deal with the wounds, it is too late. This happened to a friend of a friend who was innocently shot by a stray bullet and lost too much blood by the time he made it to the hospital. So something as necessary as access to fully-functioning hospitals are denied in predominately black and Latino areas of the South Side of Chicago. The shutting down or denial of much-needed community mental health clinics and trauma centers, as well as neighborhood schools and health clinics are but symptoms of a deeply-entrenched systemic racism that operates in Chicago and exasperates and feeds the shooting violence. Yet few white people inside or outside the city talk about these aspects in relation to the Chicago gun violence.

The violence, like the economy and races in Chicago, is highly segregated. Via Prison Culture, Daniel Hertz explains:

It’s always been unequal. Everybody who lives in Chicago or knows anything about Chicago knows that there’s a big gap in many indicators of quality of life, broadly speaking between richer neighborhoods on the North Side and poorer neighborhoods on the South and West Side, and has been for a very long time. But that gap in terms of violent crime has gotten much, much worse. In the early ’90s, the most dangerous part of the city had about six times as many homicides as the safest third of the city. Today that number is about 15 times.

The differentiation between the “safe” and “unsafe” parts of the city are due to geographic lines drawn around real estate decisions. White flight and gentrification have long been used in Chicago to keep black families – and especially poor black people – away from economic opportunity. Contrary to whatever Democrats felt when electing Mayor Rahm Emanuel, it has only gotten worse with shutting down neighborhood schools and mental health centers in black and brown neighborhoods, as well as other disinvestments. Meanwhile, white and gentrifying neighborhoods tend to get the investments taken from black and brown people.

But contrary to what Riley and the Wall Street Journal would have us believe, the systemic racism at the core of Chicago gun violence isn’t about Republicans being an alternative to Democrats. The last time we had a near-Republican takeover of Chicago was to oppose the last true progressive mayor we had, Harold Washington. Mayor Washington was a black leader who fought to right many of the apartheid injustices throughout the city and the Republican party almost resurrected in Chicago just to get him out. Republicans can stop pretending that they’d have or would do things better as we can tell from both local and national platforms and policies.

In the meantime, it isn’t black or Latino people’s fault that there are ghettos nor that they are pushed to them, Jason Riley. And violence is something forced upon poor black and brown people from the top-down. Study up.


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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