CN March 7, 2013

“Many people are trying to profit from the social failures of others, says Salim Muwakkil, noted author and WVON radio host, on this week’s show.  “You see that where these profit-making prisons are popping up. And the charter school situation is similar in many ways. There are people making profits from operating these schools, and they use the underachievement of many of these students as a pretext to gain entry. And what they’re actually doing is benefitting from educational failure – and a kind of scavenger ethic is at work.”

Muwakkil is reacting to yesterday’s announcement that CPS could close as many as 80 elementary schools, almost all of them serving African-American families. Of course, while CPS proposes closing schools in unprecedented numbers, it has also been opening many new schools, as charters.

“The thing that’s so devastating about this, that I hear from people within communities where schools are closing, is that these schools are some of the few anchors that are left,” adds the Chicago Reporter’s Angela Caputo. “There’s been so much disinvestment over the past decade that began with the foreclosure crisis. Now we’re going to have more boarded-up buildings, and fewer places where there’s a safety net.”

Caputo just published an article in the Reporter about the cost of incarceration in Cook County. 147,00 people from Chicago have been incarcerated between 2000 and 2011, and the cost of keeping them all in prison was 5.3 billion dollars.

“Two of every three prison sentences was for a non-violent offense,” she explains. “We’re basically incarcerating people for hustling or stealing. I think the point of the story is to bring the issue of money to the forefront. We’re talking about school closures because we don’t have the money, we’re talking about the state budget, we don’t have the money. But the money is there. We just have to think about how we’re spending it.”

Caputo mapped out all of the sentences by census blocks, and quickly realized that some of the City’s most impoverished neighborhoods were home to “million dollar blocks”, if you considered how much the State was investing to keep its residents behind bars. “What would four million dollars mean to a block in Austin, where they’re talking about shutting down, what, sixteen schools? 644 million dollars spent over the last 11 years incarcerating people, primarily for drug-dealing, in Austin.  What if we had invested, say 30 million of that (say half the people deserved to be in prison), what would that do for Austin?”

And there’s serious collateral damage being done, Muwakkil adds. “Many of these folks are being imprisoned at the primary age of family formation, with the energy to be productive in their communities if they had some productive activity to pursue. But there’s been disinvestment, commercial inactivity – all many of these folks see is activity in the underground economy. So it’s a tragic waste of human potential.

Disinvestment was very clear in a story Caputo did two years ago about the disappearance of Chicago jobs. “I could tell, on each block, who worked there and where they came from, she said. “What I found was, from the beginning to the end of the last decade, 86% of the jobs that were lost in the downtown core area were people who lived south of 41st Street.”

By the way, congratulations are in order for both the Reporter, now celebrating its 40th anniversary, and WVON, soon to mark its 50th.

Watch this week’s show here



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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