There’s been an understandable amount of debate over conditions in Chicago this summer, specifically when it comes to gang violence and gun crimes. To get an idea of just how bad it’s become, the Tribune ran a headline yesterday saying that violence this weekend exhibited a “sharp drop” because there were only 37 shootings. Sadly, that actually was a sharp drop since the previous weekend racked up 66 shootings and 12 deaths. People are looking for solutions, but there aren’t many being put forth yet.
There’s one person, however, who doesn’t want to see all these questions regarding what to do about Chicago. Or at least she doesn’t want to hear any questions from some of you. That would be author Mikki Kendall. She opines at the Washington Post this week that most of you people (and to be clear, we’re talking about white people here) aren’t really interested in finding solutions for Chicago’s gang violence problem. It’s just dog whistles all the way down.
Kendall begins by claiming that Republicans are making political hay out of the skyrocketing violence rates while not being truly interested in helping. It’s all just politics and racism. Of course, when the author begins to dig into the actual causes of this violence, she immediately blames the budget cuts approved by Republican Governor Bruce Rauner because I guess crime wasn’t such a problem before that or something.
Finally, she gets down to the meat of the issue. Yes, what about Chicago?
But what about Chicago and the gun violence that plagues it? That’s a conversation about America. Because the killing of 59 people, with more than 500 wounded, didn’t happen in Chicago. That mass shooting was in Las Vegas in 2017. Same problem but with higher numbers and a death toll reached in minutes rather than hours or days. Anyone who responds to a discussion of violence with “what about Chicago” should ask themselves what they really mean. The problems in Chicago could be, will be, problems in your own backyard: too many guns, too many untreated mental health issues, and the crushing weight of long-term poverty that can drive morals to the side in favor of survival instincts. Pundits like to point out that Chicago has strict gun-control laws, yet still has gun crime. They ignore the fact that 60 percent of guns used here are legally purchased in surrounding states with lax gun laws.
There’s a saying here: “Chicago over everything.” Chicagoans are almost fanatically loyal to our city. We’re irritatingly intense about pizza, sports and so much more. We have turned that same intensity on the problem of gun violence. We have marches that shut down major roads and self-funded violence intervention programs that might be as simple as moms sitting together on a corner and feeding kids. But we have to be aggressive, because even after the outbreaks of violence, even though the city has spent exorbitant amounts of money settling police misconduct cases, Chicago police are still more interested in setting up stings for shoe thieves than in actively working with communities to improve conditions for everyone.
We need a productive discussion and some workable solutions for gang violence in many more population centers around the country than just Chicago, but it would be a good place to start. Sadly, while Mikki Kendall points out some very real, thorny issues which cry out for attention, she winds up doing precisely what she accuses conservatives of doing and simply seeking to shift the blame. She’s absolutely correct that Chicago, like many other urban centers, is plagued with densely packed populations of people facing poor economic prospects, substandard public services and a lot of untreated mental health issues. Of course, as with many other cities, she proposes no solutions. Instead, the author blames the police, the state budget, and nearly everything else but the root cause of the problem: endemic gang violence.
Of course, if you read the excerpt above, the very first thing on Kendall’s list is “too many guns.” She sneers at conservative observers who point out that Chicago has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, falling back on the trope of saying that most of those guns were legally purchased in other states with “lax gun laws.”
This is the worst of the “dog whistles” in this conversation and it has nothing to do with race. It deals with the fact that guns “legally sold” in nearby states wind up being used in murders in the Windy City. As to the original point of sale, that may be technically true in some cases. But those guns were either bought by gray market straw purchasers (still illegal) or truly legally purchased firearms which are later illegally stolen or transferred and wind up in the hands of Chicago gang members. And they migrate to Chicago because there is a market for them in Chicago in the form of gang members with felony records who can’t legally purchase a firearm.
Ms. Kendall wants to bat around and mock the question “what about Chicago?” Fair enough. I’ll answer her with a different question. What about New York City? You don’t think they have large areas of mostly minority residents who are crushed by low income, little opportunity, the drug trade and all the rest? And yet the Big Apple racked up fewer than 300 murders last year. Chicago had more than twice as many, at nearly 650. Chicago has a population of around 2.7 million. New York City has over 8.5 million. How do you explain that, Ms. Kendall? Perhaps it’s not all about race, oppression or dog whistles after all and real solutions may be out there waiting to be explored.
Just some food for thought. And while we’re on the topic of food I’d like to at least agree with the author on one point. Yes, you folks in Chicago most certainly are, irritatingly intense about “pizza.” What you serve out there in Chicago isn’t pizza. Get over it.