CN January 31, 2013

Hadiya Pendleton’s murder this week seemed to somehow change the way Chicago perceived the rash of violence that claimed 42 lives in January alone.

Wendell Hutson (DNAInfo Chicago) and Chip Mitchell (WBEZ) cover some of Chicago’s most troubled communities in their assignments, and they were this week’s panel.

It’s a wide-ranging discussion about youth violence. Chip Mitchell says the one thing that seems common to all the underlying issues – poverty, education, disinvestment, unemployment – is an unwillingness to commit any additional resources to help solve these intractable problems.

“You have to have wrap-around social services and educational services beginning at the pre-K level, extending to the parents, not just extending to the young people with the guns’” he says. “We have a jobs crisis in these communities. African-American unemployment is somewhere around 19-20 percent in Chicago right now, the third-highest of any urban area in the country.  Among African-American youths it’s much higher than that, and we have a similar problem with Latino youths. Where are those resources? Mayor Daley and Mayor Emanuel, when they wanted to bring the Olympics to town, to bring NATO to town, they were able to very quickly, with their friends in the business community, raise tens of millions of dollars in a matter of months. We’ve never seen that sort of response to this crisis.”

(Immediately after this program was taped, Mayor Emanuel announced the reassignment of 200 police officers from “desk” jobs to street assignments.)

Hutson addressed the widely-held belief that too many residents fail, or refuse, to co-operate with the police by offering information about the shooters. Officials have asked celebrities such as Derek Rose to help with appeals to the community. But so many victims and their families feel a real, wide-spread fear of retaliation.

And, says Hutson, “ I cover Englewood, and Auburn Gresham, which is right next to it, both very economically challenged communities. The residents there do not trust the police. That has been a historical problem in Chicago. So one of the contributing reasons for this “don’t tell, don’t talk policy, is because they don’t trust the police.”

Also on this week’s program, The CTA’s big plan to construct a bus rapid transit line along several miles of Ashland Avenue, from about the Blue Line station at Division to the Orange Line station at Archer. Chip’s story asserts that many of the City’s top transit and transportation officials are on-board with the plan, which would eliminate the left lane of regular traffic in both directions, assigning that lane to bus traffic. According to Mitchell, if the plan is implemented, it will be one of the most ambitious BRT projects in the United States. But it could potentially upset drivers, whose left-turn opportunities would be severely limited.

Hutson gives us an update on the race to succeed Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.. Debbie Halvorson, he says, has a strategic advantage in that she’s a prominent white candidate in a district that’s about half white, and her numerous competitors are predominantly black. But there’s a serious effort, he says, to try to unite voters around one strong black candidate.

We also talk about a remarkable story Mitchell did for WBEZ in December about “temporary” workers who staff factories, construction sites and many places where there’s more than an average degree of potential physical danger. Often, these people work for years as “temps”, almost always without benefits and at pay rates at or only slightly above minimum wage.

He tells the story of one such worker who was scalded over 80% of his body in an industrial accident and died weeks later from his horrific, painful injuries. But he wasn’t technically an employee of the plant – he was hired by a staffing agency – and he was given no appropriate safety gear. He was also taken, not to a hospital, but to a company-related clinic by a fellow “temp” staffer in his own car.

It’s a dramatic account that helps illustrate the state of employment in Chicago, and America, today. Well worth a listen.

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About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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