This past weekend, at least 13 people were shot in Chicago. Among these victims were children and teenagers, a 24 year old man, and even a three-year-old boy, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. These shootings are not a part of an isolated incident of gun violence, but a part of an ongoing problem that has been affecting Chicago residents for much too long. Despite being known as a city with a crime problem, as similar cities like Detroit and Cleveland are, Chicago’s crime problem right now is at a critical level. The crime in Chicago has been making national news as dozens of innocent people are killed by stray bullets, drive-by shootings, and intentional attacks.
Earlier this month, on the 4th of July, shootings in Chicago left 14 locals killed and another 80 wounded. The Chicago Tribune reports that over the “long holiday weekend, at least a dozen people were shot in the greatest burst of gun violence Chicago has seen this year.” These shootings aren’t random incidents. Mass shootings do not happen “on accident.” Lives are not taken away from us because there is a mass epidemic of people who accidently pull the trigger of a deadly weapon for fun.
These were lives that should not have been taken. Dozens of people have been wounded and killed in Chicago, because we have failed to solve the problems that cause this type of violence in the first place. But what exactly are the problems we have failed to solve?
Violence in the inner-city does not have a singular force that drives its occurrence. Deadly violence is the result of a plethora of factors, with these factors being difficult to isolate and pinpoint. Some people say that there’s a lack of “home training” for Chicago’s youth. Still others point fingers at the “culture difference” caused by poverty and an unstable family structure that causes Chicago’s youth to turn to gangs for acceptance and a sense of belonging.
Other researchers place the blame on more tangible phenomena—phenomena grounded in numbers. Despite that most cities who have had drastic population loss are now actually seeing population levels rise, Chicago is not. Because of this population loss, inner-city neighborhoods are left with hundreds of vacant homes, a lack of jobs, and a decreased tax base to support local investment. All of these are factors that have been linked to gang violence.
Other influences that have been suggested as contributing factors to the violence in Chicago include unstable gang hierarchies due to gang leaders being removed from power, police tactics on and off the streets, and the simple lack of police officers on duty. Despite the notion that more police officers are beneficial for controlling crime, other research suggests that the premise of this assumption may be complicated. The Chicago Reporter reveals that Black Chicagoans are at an extremely high risk of being victims of police brutality compared to their white counterparts. This only increases tensions between the inner-city residents of Chicago and their police force. People need to be able to trust the police of their municipality, not fear that they will abuse their power when called to act. This makes residents wary of the people they are supposed to trust. Therefore, calling the police is not much of a solution to the violence.
Another commonly referenced cause of crime the inner-city is the “culture difference.” Many people suggest that the wanton lyrics of rap music and the behavior promoted by “welfare queens” are encouragements of criminal behavior. However, condemning a culture that has developed within the historical context of racial subjugation isn’t where we should focus our efforts.
The sheer number of potential causes of violence doesn’t preclude crime reduction. We should not be condemning, nor pointing our fingers at the first contributing factor that comes to our mind. Placing blame is not what will move Chicago forward. But building Chicago up through grassroots investments in the community is what will—investments in infrastructure investments, business development, support of local businesses, money towards education, time towards mentoring, and resources for family health and planning.
Education investments in particular is advocated by the Economic Policy Institute, a non-profit think-tank that advocates for the collective good of society through supporting lower-income citizens. The EPI posits that “access to high quality education will not only expand economic opportunity for residents, but also likely do more to strengthen the overall state economy than anything else a state government can do.”
Another investment that we can make, a non-monetary investment, is investing in the way we regard Chicago and Chicagoans. People tend to think of many inner-cities as though they were poverty-stricken warzones. Citizens are stripped down to statistics and stereotypes. Instead of placing blame on the individual, we can invest in the way that we think about these people. These people are our family, our friends, and people with their own families full of goals and aspirations. Viewing these people as people, and not as numbers, is one of the best ways to approach these problems. In doing this, we make the problem personal, not abstract.
Investing in the opportunities, resources, and infrastructure of cities is imperative. By investing, we help to level the playing field between lower and higher income communities. Giving the poor the resources to build their own way to success not only saves one person, but can help to save successive generations as well by enabling productivity in the long term. By investing in these communities, inner-city youth will be enabled to see violence as less of a way to solve their problems, and more of a negative action that can cause serious harm.
We need to start investing. We need to focus on a more developed understanding of the complicated interplay between factors of race, finances, and criminal activity. And overall, we need to not ask “why” this occurring, but “how” we can help.