Violence and Segregation

At a forum this morning called "Chicago World Class City, 3rd World Violence," I heard from the director of U of C's crime lab and Education Lab, a US attorney's office Deputy Chief for Narcotics and Gangs, a Cook County Assistant State's Attorney supervising the Juvenile Justice Bureau, an FBI agent supervising the Violent Street Gang squad, and the First Deputy Supt. of the CPD.

The panel asked "What's causing the rise in violent crime and how much is driven by street gangs?" And while the causes are complex, the conversation kept coming round to segregation. By focusing much light and heat on issues of access to guns, needed educational system reforms, social media, and civic collaboration, we as a community can make some difference around the margins of violence levels.

Maybe, if we are lucky, we can pacify our young black men to accept their lives of lowered educational expectations, poverty, and poor health in quiet, peaceful acceptance.  But we should not be surprised that at the most hormonal and energetic stages of life, our young black men rail at being concentrated in segregated pockets of poverty by clashing with those around them and yes, with the society itself.

The conversation kept swinging round to segregation:

“Chicago is a very segregated city.”
“These kids are very segregated.”
“Their communities are so segregated.”
“Studies of the Moving to Opportunity Demonstration showed strongly that moving people from deeply concentrated poverty and segregation into mixed-income neighborhoods led to huge positive impacts.”

We heard these points not just from the public health-trained director of the crime lab, but from prosecutors and law enforcement. 

And still, no one would confront the gorilla in the room.  We called for counseling, youth development, better partnerships with schools, and collaboration, collaboration, and more collaboration.  But what we really need to do is eliminate the ghetto – promote mobility options for people living with housing subsidies, and otherwise “gild the ghetto” and promote community development so that identifiable pockets of segregated poverty are no more.

So long as we continue to accept a metropolitan layout that concentrates our most marginal young men in segregated poverty, we will continue to have flare-ups of violence as sure as the day is long.