With debate about Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis' gang leader sit-down at a fevered pitch, some neighborhood advocates think elected officials need to spend equal time talking about job creation.
Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis' recent meeting with West Side gang leaders, at which he demanded the ringleaders tamp down on violence committed by the underlings they allegedly control, has sparked varying reactions over the wisdom of the sit-down. In media spots, City Council members have both criticized and defended Weis. Gov. Pat Quinn stepped into the fray, cautioning Weis for holding what he called a "gang summit." Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, whose poll numbers are dipping in part because of his administration's record on crime, is on board with the sit-down. "If you lost a son to gunfire," he told reporters, "you'd sit down with anyone."
But at a wide-ranging press conference held by several current and ex-gang members this morning in response to the meeting (which they decried), several speakers argued that elected officials must look beyond the immediate tactical questions being raised about police strategies.
Two, in particular, drew a straight line from the utter dearth of economic opportunities in a number of black neighborhoods on the city's South and West Sides to the crime that disproportionately affects those areas. Here's how Reginald Akkeem Berry Sr., the head of an organization called Save Our Sons, and Voices of the Ex-Offenders' member Mark Carter put it:
The staggering level of economic stagnation and unemployment in Chicago's black neighborhoods isn't exactly captured in the official, city-wide tabulations of the unemployment rate. That number, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, stood at 10.5 percent last month. But the Chicago Reporter has recently been digging deeper into the numbers. Take this analysis about four neighborhoods on the South Side:
Collectively, the South Side community areas of Auburn Gresham, Englewood, Washington Heights and West Englewood had an unemployment rate of 22.4 percent, according to a Chicago Reporter analysis of employment data from the 2007 American Community Survey.
Earlier in the year, the Reporter revealed that tens of thousands of young people here haven't worked during the previous five years -- or longer. In a swath of the West Side, 52 percent of people between the ages of 16 and 30 fell into this category in 2008, the worst rate in the nation. And this isn't a new issue. Even in 2000, before the brutal economic trajectory of the last decade, the magazine found that the median unemployment rate in Chicago's black communities to be 18.2 percent.
With discussions about Weis's -- which is to say the mayor's -- gang meeting at a fevered pitch, it's clear that crime will be a key campaign issue during the municipal election cycle. The reality of unemployment on the South Side and West Side, however, shouldn't be forgotten. Neither should expanded access to affordable and quality education or programs that help ex-offenders when they get out of jail and return to city neighborhoods.