LaShawn Ford isn’t an alderman. But his Illinois State Representative district covers parts of three west side wards, and he sees first hand the ravages of disinvestment, poverty and violence. He feels so strongly about the need for radical change in the way that Chicago treats its less-powerful citizens that he decided he could do a better job than the current mayor.
“I don’t think that Rahm has the will and the desire to represent all communities because his focus has always been his relationships with corporate America,” he begins. “You know Rahm is focused on making sure that he has great relationships with Google. That he has great relationships with Boeing. That he has great relationships with all of the billion dollar industries. So for that I thank him for bringing some of those industries here so that now we can tap those industries to help deal with some of the problems in the inner city like the South and West Sides of Chicago.”
Ford’s unusually diverse district includes both affluent suburban communities and urban pockets of deep poverty. It gives him a unique perspective and a real sense of outrage over the inequality.
“I mean the ignoring of the South and West Sides of Chicago, ignoring the parts of the West Side that were hit in the 1968 riots you know? We should have had TIF dollars come into those areas to develop those areas to eliminate the blight. And because of that we continue to see crime in those areas on the West Side like Austin. We continue to see trauma festering in peoples’ lives because there seems to be hopelessness in families because of the stress of their neighborhoods.”
We talk at some length about the need for durable, inexpensive housing in communities where incomes are low and services are often lacking. We ask him why developers can’t seem to build affordable housing in Chicago on a smaller, human scale.
“What you have is a city that is not friendly to small developers,” he claims. “It’s so very difficult to get permits in the City of Chicago. It is corrupted in the Permits Department and the Zoning Department and we have to make sure that we eliminate that corruption….So you have people that struggle as developers that want to help develop these blighted communities but because they don’t want to pay to play they run away from development.”
LaShawn Ford’s personal story is inspiring. He’s a successful politician today, but his origins might not have predicted that.
“I was born in Cabrini and my mother was 15 when she had me. I never met my father. I still don’t know who he is today. My grandmother adopted me at birth so I had the honor of being raised by my grandmother and I still have a great relationship with my mother that is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, a heroin addiction.
“You see more people in need of mental and behavioral health treatment,” he continues. “We see more people using substance, having a substance abuse disorder. That’s a sign of a city that needs healing. We have people that are sleeping on the streets of Chicago. That’s because we have a problem with affordable housing but we also have a strong mental health problem in this city. We have people that’ve been arrested because they are mentally ill, and we have our police department that is not equipped with helping people with behavioral health problems.”
“But the neighborhood, your zip code dictates whether or not you are going to get out of poverty,” he asserts. “If you’re black, if you’re born into poverty the chances are you are going to remain in poverty until you die because the system is set up that way. And it’s not every day people, white people that we could hold accountable, it’s the rich and powerful people that hold all of us down. So somehow we have to figure out how we are going to come together as a group.”
Our new mayor will face a daunting array of problems, but the Police Department’s relationship with African-American Chicago will be at or near the top.
“The question is are they seeing a black man in the same lens as a white man?” he asks. “And the answer is no, and so we have to call that out…Then you have a white cop that intentionally killed Laquan McDonald because he shot him 16 times and then you had a whole police department that covered up. The value of black people’s lives have to be equivalent to their counterparts, their brothers and sisters of the races. And until we can have the conversation and make people comfortable with it we are going to continue to have these type of unfair rulings, unfair sentencing, and we are going to continue to have white officers shooting black men in the back. And so we have to have a mayor that is going to say, “That’s not our city. Our city will not stand for that. We want to have a police department, a justice system and laws on the books that protects the dignity and the humanity of our society.”
You can watch the show by tapping the image above.
You can read a full transcript here: cn transcript jan 24 2019