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Monday, July 28, 2008

Why Crime Is High

A particular focus of the Chicago media over the last few weeks has been the spike in violence. The story is usually swept under the rug, but earlier this month there were shootings at the Taste of Chicago which could not be ignored. Mayor Daley is betting a large part of his legacy on bringing the Olympics to Chicago in 2016, and gun violence at the premier annual public event is sure to set off alarms.

Last weekend, I attended a Chicago cop wedding. The talk at the event centered on how unsafe Chicago was. A good friend of mine had given up working the special forces-style TACT unit because he felt isolated by the politicians and media. In the last year or so, there have been heavily covered stories of police misconduct. These stories led to the hiring of a new Police Commissioner, Jody Weis. Weis now finds himself on the hot seat, charged with the unenviable task of answering to politicians who won't hire more police and improving morale with an increasingly disaffected officer corps.

But the question no one is asking is why? The reason no one is asking this is because in the current economic crisis, no one wants to hear the answer: More police. And more jobs for the poor.

In the current issue of The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin gives us some insight into why the small cities of America (Memphis, St. Louis, Milwaukee, etc.) are suffering through crime waves. The answer stems from the missing skyline of poverty that used to border the eastern edge of the Dan Ryan. The ghetto has been demolished, but the misery has been exported to other areas of Chicago, the suburbs, and to neighboring states. Areas which had never seen gang violence now suffer from the urban plague.

Neek’s middle-class habits have made him, unwittingly, a perfect target
for homegrown gangs. Gang leaders, cut loose from the housing projects,
have adapted their recruiting efforts and operations to their new
setting. Lately, they’ve been going after “smart, intelligent,
go-to-college-looking kid[s], without gold teeth and medallions,” said
Sergeant Lambert Ross, an investigator with the Memphis Police.
Clean-cut kids serve the same function as American recruits for
al-Qaeda: they become the respectable front men. If a gang member gets
pulled over with guns or drugs, he can hand them to the college boy,
who has no prior record. The college boy, raised outside the projects,
might be dreaming of being the next 50 Cent, or might be too
intimidated not to join. Ross told me that his latest batch of arrests
involved several kids from two-car-garage families.

Neither candidate has made crime an issue, but it is only a matter of time before a crime so heinous is perpetrated that the focus will return to the recurring ills of inner-city poverty. Will either stand up and demand that government place economic development for the impoverished as a priority? Or will they demonize these communities? In today's political climate, I'm not too optimistic for increased government aid.

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