Rahm’s “solutions” to gun violence are the problem

August 30, 2018

Chicago politicians’ answer to violence in Chicago is victim-blaming and sending in more police officers who cause violence in poor neighborhoods, writes Todd St Hill.

CHICAGO HAS been in the headlines once again after the city was rocked by gun violence over the summer, including several weekends when the number of shooting deaths reached double digits.

Once again, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Department (CPD) Superintendent Eddie Johnson responded with simplistic and contradictory explanations for the violence, accusing Black and Latinx communities of taking part in a “code of silence,” and supposedly lacking values and morals for not reporting crime to the police.

Meanwhile, Johnson and Emanuel refuse to condemn the murderers on the police force and their own “code of silence.” They have nothing to say about the officers who murdered Harith “Snoop” Augustus and Maurice Granton Jr. this summer — both killed within weeks of each other, both running away from officers — or Laquan McDonald, who was gunned down in 2015 in a hail of 16 shots, also while he was walking away from officers.

Days after a weekend in which 12 people were killed and another 63 wounded, Johnson announced that he was instructing officers to target large social gatherings on the West and South Sides. “I would guess that a lot of those gatherings probably had a gangs nexus to it, or rival gangs saw them out there and they decided to do what they do,” Johnson said. “In a lot of instances they don’t care who they shoot.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (right) and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (right) and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson

In other words, Johnson’s solution to the violence is ordering the same police force that is under a federal consent decree for a pattern of civil rights violations — and that rioted against neighborhood residents and community activists who gathered to protest the murder of Harith Augustus in July — to go out and “monitor” street parties.

Another recently reported CPD “solution” to crime was leaving partially opened “bait trucks” filled with expensive shoes in the poor and predominantly Black neighborhood of Englewood, in the hopes that they could entice people into committing a crime.

The city also increased its police presence at the largest Black parade in the U.S., the Bud Billiken Day Parade, on August 11.

Youth activists — many of whom took part in the March for Our Lives protests, shedding light on the connections between gun violence in the form of mass shootings, gun violence that occurs in poor communities, and gun violence at the hands of police — reported the overwhelming and terrifying police presence at the parade.

Youth marching behind local artist and grand marshal Vic Mensa described CPD officers on bikes, with paddy wagons close at hand, chomping at the bit to descend on them and the grand marshal as they briefly stopped the parade to raise awareness about the impending trial of Jason Van Dyke, the cop who killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

CPD SUPERINTENDENT Johnson’s tactics invite two scenarios — further control of the movement of Black people in their own neighborhoods and further racial profiling of Black and Brown, and likely young, people...in their own neighborhoods.

Additionally, these tactics will undoubtedly place targets on the backs of those who use protest to demand justice for police murders, and accountability from the cops who kill and city officials overall.

These tactics resemble all too closely the collective punishment tactics used by the Israel Defense Forces against Palestinians living under occupation — which is no coincidence, since domestic police in the U.S., and CPD in particular, share the IDF’s policing tactics and strategies, which are meant to intimidate and control people already living under the crushing weight of racial inequality.

The mayor derides these communities for supposedly lacking morals and values and Johnson vilifies them for remaining silent, but what they really need is not lectures but solutions to the root causes of what is characterized as gun violence and mischaracterized as gang violence.

In 2012, 30 percent of Black people lived in poverty in Chicago while more than 20 percent were out of work. Over 30 percent of Lantinx people lived in poverty in the same year.

In 2017, part-time employment skyrocketed while those unemployed but who have actively sought work in the past four weeks increased significantly higher than the national rate, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Late last year, the Chicago Tribune reported that while Black Illinoisans experienced “substantial gains” — referring to an increase in median income to $35,517, which is well below the median salary in Chicago of $47,371 — the overall poverty rate remains higher than in 2007, before the Great Recession.

BUT NO one has to tell residents of Englewood that their community is in desperate need of resources. When the CPD bait truck filled with Nike shoes was dropped off, residents and activists quickly called out the ploy meant to entrap residents who are living in areas that lack basic resources and adequate jobs.

When 60 percent of the city’s population is struggling to make ends meet, we have to ask how this can happen under the noses of our elected officials. More importantly, why should we believe a word from politicians who can watch a people suffer and respond with empty platitudes — and more and more and more police?

In communities like Englewood, tensions that erupt into devastating instances of violence or petty crime aren’t as surprising as another number: 2,354, which is the number of reported allegations of police misconduct in that neighborhood.

This is a large number considering that many more people don’t report police misconduct out of fear of repercussions from the police. But according to Citizens Police Data Project records dating as far back as 2011, of all these allegations against police, including illegal searches, false arrests and use of force, about 96 percent resulted in no disciplinary action.

The unfortunate reality is that interactions with CPD, while they don’t necessarily end with harassment or humiliation, are often traumatizing and even fatal. And if one survives the experience, chances are they will remain under surveillance on the CPD gang database, particularly if they’re a young person of color.

The gang database is part of the Crime Prevention Information Center, a government-funded data-sharing fusion center that receives $8,246,729 in funding through a Department of Homeland Security grant called the Urban Areas Security Initiative aimed at “non-profit organizations that are at high risk of terrorist acts.”

Like the city’s continuous increase in police presence, the gang database has had no effect on decreasing violence in Chicago.

IF CITY officials were really looking for solutions, they might look to the numerous alternatives provided by activists, grassroots organizations and block clubs in Black communities like Englewood.

Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings (MASK) has for years been on a corner the straddles the line between the Englewood and Auburn Gresham neighborhoods — both notorious for violence and poverty and targeted by law enforcement.

Englewood is where the bait truck was dropped off, and Gresham is one of the neighborhoods where Johnson deployed 600 more police officers. There, MASK has hosted block parties, inviting volunteers from all over the city to help feed and interact with children from the neighborhood.

Since they started, founder Tamara Manasseh says there haven’t been any senseless killings on their corner. It isn’t just the presence of MASK in Englewood and Auburn Gresham that has facilitated such a change; it’s the fact that volunteers have been attempting to fill the social and economic gaps that massive and deep racial inequality, brutal policing and an ever-expanding incarceration system has created in their community.

In short, they have been attempting to repair the ravenous damage that capitalism has done to their neighborhood.

Their community is like many Black communities across the U.S. And in cities like Chicago, where community members, activists and grassroots organizations are offering alternatives and demanding change while desperately trying to stave off the beasts of inequality and poverty, they are doing so in a context of a well-funded police force.

One can only imagine all that an impoverished community could do with, let’s say, $8,246,729. What if the city spent this money on social services, like expanding a defunct and divested mental health care system or reopening closed neighborhood schools and equipping them with robust after-school programs that could train and employ people from the local neighborhood?

For that matter, why not spend much more than $8,246,729?

Unfortunately, Chicago’s Democratic Party politicians are more concerned with what they can do for real estate developers who are ready to move in once Black people have been forced out of these neighborhoods by the pressure of scarcity and inequality.

And when policy doesn’t do the trick, policing is always their alternative.

As Keeanga Yahmatta-Taylor pointed out at SW a few years ago:

Crime and violence are not mysterious, nor are they diseases; they are the predictable outcomes of the economic violence that provides the ravaging context, within which the gun violence and murders are happening in Chicago.

When people have no realistic possibility of meaningful employment because of either a criminal record or just the simple absence of jobs, then joining a gang becomes a viable alternative, if not a necessity, for economic survival.

It’s important that our movement make demands that look at the roots of violence and the concrete demands that address the poverty and racism that fuels it, but also reflect a world we want to fight for.

Our only hope rests in our ability to draw concrete connections between our struggles to build a fight rooted in the kind of solidarity that cuts through all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia — and that has, at its core, ambitious and optimistic goals of independent social and political transformation of society.

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