Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] Poverty pulls the trigger
View original article here:
Comment: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
======== POVERTY PULLS THE TRIGGER ===========================================
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor reports on the spike in violent crime in Chicago--and
why it reflects a political and economic failing, not a moral one.
August 20, 2012
THE END of summer in Chicago is near and the hope is that with it will come
an end to--or at least a slowing of--the tragic increase in the number of
murders and gun violence the city has seen over the past year.
In the last year, murders in the city have jumped by almost 40 percent,
making Chicago one of the most dangerous cities in the country. Chicago's
murder rate  is quadruple that of New York City and double that of Los
One recent comparison dramatized the danger in Chicago by pointing out that
more people have been killed in Chicago this year than the number of American
troops killed in Afghanistan during the same period . As of mid-June, 228
Chicagoans had been killed--compared to 144 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for
the year to that point.
That is true over the past decade as well. Since 2001, 2,000 troops have been
killed Afghanistan but more than 5,000 Chicagoans have been killed by gun
violence in the same time span.
The escalating violence and murder in Chicago streets has become an
embarrassing national news story for the city powers that be. After all,
Chicago is the home of President Barack Obama, and powerful Democratic Party
operative Rahm Emanuel is the city's current mayor.
The bad press has prompted city officials to try and "get in front" of
growing murder statistics and the macabre body count that the local
newspapers engage in every Monday morning after neighborhood shootings spike
over the weekends.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
DESPITE THE media focus on the numbers of people killed, there is little in
the way of serious discussions on how to address the violence that is
shattering some Chicago neighborhoods. Perhaps if the violence were taking
the lives of white children, there would be much more of an urgency to end
the carnage. Instead, it is young African American and Latino bodies that are
fueling Chicago growing murder rate.
More than half of the murders in the city happen in a handful of
neighborhoods that are Black or Latino--and it is the kids in those
communities that are paying the price with their lives. Since 2008, more than
530 young African Americans and Latinos have been killed, more than any other
city in the country. Nearly 80 percent of youth homicides occurred in 22
Black or Latino communities  on the city's South, Southwest and West
The daily tragedy of children and teenagers being murdered on the streets of
the nation's third-largest (and third most segregated) city have been reduced
to the media fueled moniker of so-called "Black-on-Black crime." The
description of violence in Black communities and neighborhoods as
"Black-on-Black" crime is a way pathologizing violence that is not actually
intrinsic to the race or ethnicity of those engaged in it.
In the deeply segregated U.S., most crime happens between people of the same
race. Most crimes experienced by whites are committed by whites, but there is
no such description as "white-on-white" crime. In other words, when a white
person commits a crime, it is not seen as connected to that person's race--it
is seen as an act committed by an individual.
Simplistic explanations for serious issues help to produce simplistic
solutions that make for good sound bites but do nothing to actually address
the real problem of crime and violence in poor and working-class communities
of color. For example, a recent report made it clear that these murders are
concentrated in the poorest and most-segregated neighborhoods  in the
In fact, it would be more descriptive and accurate to describe the wave of
violence in Chicago as "poverty-on-poverty" or "segregated-on-segregated"
crime because that is the actual source of the tensions that have boiled over
and led to the heightened murder rate in the city.
While Rahm Emanuel recently described the Chicago economy as "booming," in
the two-thirds of the city that is predominantly Black and Brown, there is an
economic depression .
Over 30 percent of African Americans in Chicago live in poverty and more than
20 percent are out of work. More than 30 percent of Latinos in Chicago live
in poverty. In the face of such obvious facts, one would assume that jobs and
anti-poverty strategies would be a part of any attempt to curb the violence
in these communities. Instead, repression and moralism are deployed as the
only responses to what actually is a crisis of racism and poverty
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THE POLICE have pledged to flood the streets with police, conduct mass
arrests and revoke bond for misdemeanor offenses  for those they decide
are members of gangs. Undoubtedly, this police gimmickry will only compound
the existing problem--poverty and unemployment.
As Michelle Alexander's /The New Jim Crow/ points out, in the Black
neighborhood of North Lawndale, 70 percent of the men aged 18 to 45 have a
criminal record--making employment in an already tight market almost an
Where more policing and imprisoning will not suffice, public officials and
others have offered up dumbed-down responses to what seem like the more
obvious strategies. For example, when President Obama was recently in Chicago
for a series of fundraisers, he gave a taped statement commenting on the
murders and violence. His solution ? "We need better role models...we have
to provide stronger role models than the gang-banger on the corner."
Weeks earlier Emanuel made a similarly vague comment : "It's not about
crime, it's about values."
In a breathtaking display of arrogance and delusion, heir to the
multibillion-dollar Pritzker family fortune and charter school mogul Margot
Pritzker suggested that the city collect a penny from each citizen
"...including children. Let's use the money toward equipping community
centers, security cameras, neighborhood watches. It won't be enough, but it
will help our broken city and show we are serious."
Popular Chicago Catholic priest, Father Michael Pfleger, at least, identified
what he called, "a perfect storm of unemployment, failing schools and program
cutbacks," but Pfleger also collapsed into patronizing cliché when he
suggested as the cure: "Parents have to step up. Neighbors have to step up.
Communities have to step up."
Moreover, Pfleger invited police chief Garry McCarthy to march with him
through a South Side neighborhood as a gesture of solidarity with the police.
In New York City, which has its own crime issues, Obama adviser and talk show
host, Rev. Al Sharpton, has suggested that people "occupy the corners" to
diffuse flashpoints of tension and stop violence before it starts.
Dozens of other pundits, politicians and commentators have suggested parents
do more, have called on celebrities to speak out against violence and offered
many other prescriptions against the violence--except for the painfully
Where is the demand, just as a starting point, for meaningful jobs in these
economically depressed communities, full funding for all public schools, a
moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, and the restoration of budgets for
the array of social and welfare services that have made poverty much harsher
in the U.S.?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
IN THE political age of budget cuts and shrinking government services,
politicians of all stripes, and the people who support their agendas, have a
vested interest in blaming a "lack of values and morality" for the problems
of crime and violence in communities of color. It makes it a "personal"
problem and not one produced by a system of economic and racial inequality at
Crime and violence are not mysterious nor are they diseases; they are the
predictable outcomes of the economic violence that provides the ravaging
context within which the gun violence and murders are happening in Chicago.
When people have no realistic possibility of meaningful employment because of
either a criminal record or just the simple absence of jobs, then joining a
gang becomes a viable alternative, if not a necessity, for economic survival.
Minority neighborhoods in Chicago have been devastated by budget cuts,
unemployment, entrenched poverty and a despondent hopelessness that the
future will ever be different.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the distinction between his own kids' lives of
privilege and luxury and those of Chicago's Black and Brown children when,
after an extravagant South American vacation, he quipped to a local
newspaper, "Every year, we try to take the kids to a different part of the
world to see. When you...grow up...you want to be an Emanuel child. It's
Truer words have never been spoken when compared to the poverty and
segregation in which most Black and Latino kids in Chicago grow up. In the
ghettos of Chicago, public schools are starved of resources and shuttered,
desperately needed mental health clinics are shut down and thousands of home
and building foreclosures perpetuate an atmosphere of insecurity, anxiety and
unpredictability that compounds the tensions that give way to violence.
Violence in poor and working-class communities is a serious issue for those
who live there, to be sure. But all too often the "solutions" offered are
more police and relying on the racist criminal justice system that has
created many of these problems in the first place--or self-blame.
But crime and violence do not exist or take place in a vacuum. Martin Luther
King Jr. said more than 40 years ago that the U.S. government was the
"greatest purveyor of violence in the world" and that as long as that reality
existed, he could not condemn the poorest people who committed violence in
this country--because they are the actual victims of American greed, racism
>As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have
>told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems.
>I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my
>conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent
>action. But they asked--and rightly so--what about Vietnam? They asked if
>our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems,
>to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew
>that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the
>oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest
>purveyor of violence in the world today--my own government. For the sake of
>those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of
>thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
Poor and working-class communities that suffer violence are looked at as
exceptional or aberrations to the "mainstream," when, in fact, the violence
acted out in neighborhoods is only a reflection of the violence that is often
glorified and celebrated throughout American politics and culture. From
Hollywood bloodbath movies, to the death penalty, to wars and occupations, to
the criminal support and subsidization of the genocidal state of Israel, the
U.S. ruling class worships at the alter of violence, mass murder and mayhem.
Is it any wonder then that when deep cynicism replaces hope for the future
that some act out in a way that is completely consistent with many of the
values promoted by those who rule this country: brutality, vengeance and
Of course, the violence acted out by the oppressed against each other is an
expression of powerlessness, desperation and profound social alienation--but
it also reflects the absorption and influence of ruling-class mores.
The alternative to this is not more police, and it is not debates about
morality and values, it is about giving the young people of this country hope
that there is a future worth living for. It means not closing their schools,
stealing their homes, or brutalizing, arresting and imprisoning them.
"Hope," in this context, is the simple belief that another world, free of
racism, poverty and repression is possible. It is a future worth fighting
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Published by the International Socialist Organization. Material on this Web
site is licensed by SocialistWorker.org, under a Creative Commons (by-nc-nd
3.0) license, except for articles that are republished with permission.
Readers are welcome to share and use material belonging to this site for
non-commercial purposes, as long as they are attributed to the author and
Sign up for e-mail alerts from SocialistWorker.org.
Published by the International Socialist Organization