Violence in Chicago, or Race and how society makes villains to blame

Much has been said lately of the rates of crime generally and violence in particular (and especially gun deaths) in Chicago. Chicago, the place where I was born and raised and, until the past 14 years, give or take, lived my life. A city I still love.

And things got REALLY ugly when a kidnapping and torture by some Black youth against a white special needs youth occurred, and was videotaped. And on Facebook and Twitter, all the white people who can never work up the energy to get outraged when Black and Brown people are brutalized were suddenly energized, furious and scary in their calls for retribution and the broad blame they laid. Many of them blamed the Black Lives Matter movement and also decided that all Black people were part of BLM and so managed to conflate a lot of things that don’t go together with four messed-up young adults doing something heinous for their own sick reasons.

What has gone often unsaid out loud about the violence in general beyond just this really sick incident, but has been very loudly suggested on many fronts (especially social media), is how it’s the fault of Black and Brown people. How little they care about their neighborhoods. How violent they are. How lacking in goals and ambitions.

Pretty much: Look at those dark-skinned animals and what they have wrought!

Let me moderate my thoughts as I write the words…at least somewhat moderate them: Screw that B.S.

I remember in my childhood the South Side neighborhood and home in which my Granny lived (especially when my Paw-Paw was still alive and healthy in the house with her). I remember how middle class/working class it was and how normal it all was. How neighbors spoke to each other and looked out for each other (mostly by making sure all the kids were behaving themselves and telling on them to their parents when they weren’t).

But I also remember how it all changed. How as Black and Brown people settled in to be responsible homeowners how the last of the white people began to drift away. Some because apparently the neighborhood was getting too dark for them and others because even if they were committed to sticking around, they got older (and died or had to go to retirement homes or whatnot) and their kids and grandkids didn’t want to live among “those people.”

And as the neighborhood got more and more brown, how the property values steadily went down. Not because the homeowners were irresponsible, but because throughout U.S. history and even now, real estate people start devaluing neighborhoods almost the moment the first brown-skinned face shows up to buy property.

And then the self-fulfilling prophecy. As the area was deemed less valuable and the people in it seen not as “worthy,” suddenly things like the city maintaining streets and providing prompt and courteous police service and such was less important. And the schools. And public transit access that would let people there get to jobs or just go shop. And then the grocery stores went away to be replaced by liquor stores. And the gangs grew.

But who got blamed for it all? The Black and Brown residents.

They were just living off welfare or involved in crime or running side hustles because they liked it that way. They didn’t care or have ambition. They loved drugs more than anything. They protected the criminals. Those were the stories, at least

But how do you survive when you can’t even get cabs to come to your neighborhood when the public transit service is cut? When there are not only no jobs in your area but no way to get to them? When you can’t sell your house because people long ago deemed the area “bad” for not being white enough. When you can’t move somewhere “better” because you can’t afford first and last month’s rent and deposit, much less moving costs? That’s when people end up on welfare or turn to crime.

People with business interests and city officials with other priorities let their racism create the bad situations. They may not have done it with specifically evil intent, but they decided to shut their eyes and ignore the fact they were shifting the money and resources away once they didn’t like the look of the people there. And that’s evil itself and evil enough.

And that’s largely what’s happening now. Again. Rahm Emmanuel, as mayor, has done terrible things to the city as a whole (which affects the poorer and more vulnerable…and typically Black/Brown areas even more). He’s cut public health especially in the area of mental health services. He’s gutted public education. The Chicago police force is allowed to continue to use practices that are less than fair and equal when it comes to which hue of people get the fist (or taser or bullet) instead of the outstretched hand.

The problem isn’t the people of Chicago (Black or otherwise), unless you’re talking about the key policy-makers and the people who control the money and jobs and influence in government. Those who have…or kind of have something…get what love there is to be given. Those who have not get nothing. Or, more accurately, they are typically given periods of hope or progress in bits and pieces and from time to time, only to have what little light appeared at the end of the tunnel yanked away by, for example, the current mayor and his friends and allies. Never is awareness and help extended long enough to actually fix anything. Never are the underlying systems, inequities and biases ever addressed and fixed.

And so the cycle of blame begins, which would be fine, if the blame got aimed enough at the right people, instead of the people who just happen to be Black and Brown and whose lives definitely don’t matter to the people in charge most of the time.
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