If you happen to live anywhere north of North Avenue and in a broad swath hugging the lake to just south of UIC – congratulations. You live in one of the safest contiguous collections of urban neighborhoods in North America. If your place is near, say 63rd and the Red Line, or perhaps Chicago and Pulaski, well you can attest to what researcher Daniel Hertz calls “basically two completely separate cities.”
Hertz, a Masters’ Degree candidate at the U of C’s Harris school of Public Policy, is referring to his recent research on the segregation of violence in Chicago. Among his conclusions: people in Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods are fifteen times more likely to be victims of violence or homicide than people in the safest neighborhoods. But in the late nineties, that ratio was 6:1.
“We know that overall homicides have gone down tremendously over the last 20 years,” he explains. “From the peak of the crack epidemic they’re down almost fifty percent in Chicago. Something that’s hard to keep in mind because there’s still a lot of murders by any objective standard…I was interested in whether that decline had been enjoyed equally by the different neighborhoods.”
Although homicide went down slightly in the neighborhoods that comprise the most dangerous third of the city, in the “red areas” crime actually went up as the City-wide rate was dropping by half. And the crime data closely tracks economic data. The disparity between the richest and poorest neighborhoods has grown in a similar pattern. “Poor people in Chicago are more segregated from other people than in almost any other city…and that level of disparity is new,” Hertz concludes.
Salim Muwakkil, who has written and talked about these matters for decades – most recently as a host on WVON – refers to the “almost apartheid nature of this crime situation”. And he sees a very big-picture solution, one with which he knows many don’t agree.
“My answer is essentially reparations, in the form of a Marshall Plan in the black community,” he explains. “We have not addressed the injuries of generations of socialization for subservience in our community. Slavery and Jim Crow apartheid. And the lack of a cultural capital that we haven’t been able to develop because of our constant reacting to assaults on our humanity. And so until we deal with that in a serious and comprehensive way we’re gonna always have these problems, I think.”
“In many communities,” he adds, “a lot of black people are successful and have done well in this society. But increasing numbers are not. And I think if you trace that distress, it can only go back to one thing, and that’s our history in this country. And we have been resolute in avoiding this conversation. We have to begin to be more explicit.”
Robert Starks, Professor Emeritus at Northeastern’s Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, tells the panel that the disproportionate crime and violence is being fueled by forces well outside these ravaged neighborhoods. “Nobody wants to face up to the fact that drugs and guns were deliberately dumped into the African-American community,” he asserts. “We don’t grow drugs in rooftop gardens in Chicago. We don’t manufacture guns in the basement. Somebody’s putting them there.”
And Starks thinks Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s call for increased punishment – and mandatory prison time – for the use of a gun while committing a crime – is not well thought-out. “I think Sup’t McCarthy would be better suited if he were to look at who’s bringing the guns into the community,” he says. “I am absolutely convinced that, given the NSA and all the surveillance techniques, that they could find who’s bringing the drugs in, and who’s bringing the guns in. These guns don’t just appear out of the sky. And young kids can tell you where to go and get a gun. They can tell you where to get the drugs, and where to get the guns.”