I was present on August 28th when our new Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, announced her report on the first 100 days in office and their achievements. The announcement was in a packed auditorium at Kenwood Academy on the south side and the audience was primarily made up of people who had been on the Transition teams and other supporters. The Mayor is sharp and seemed earnest about her desire to end business as usual in Chicago. The crowd was enthusiastic and applauded throughout her brief remarks.
Contrast this with reports and tweets from media outlets like Crain’s Chicago Business and others. They have gone out of their way to plant this narrative about how the Mayor has done very little about crime and some of the other huge issues that we face. It is like Mayor Lightfoot will magically turn into Thanos (see Avengers movies) and snap her fingers and solve the budget crisis, pension problems, a teacher’s strike, homeless issues and crime in our city. I know that black women are superheroes and that they have served as the backbone of America since 1619, but damn. The problems we are seeing now are decades in the making. These issues did not pop up when Lightfoot became Mayor. Crain’s cares about crime because it is now creeping downtown. It is beginning to impact Chicago’s reputation nationally and internationally with developers and tourists. So now, the downtown elites want her to solve this problem because it is starting to affect them.
Speaking of who is responsible for crime, the last time I checked the Chicago Police Department (CPD) is ultimately responsible. A huge percentage of Chicago’s overall budget is spent on police work. The CPD budget is roughly $1.6 Billion and they have about 14,275 employees. Taxpayers also pay over $95 MM in OT. The department spends $43 MM on technology for cameras that don’t catch any crime except in certain neighborhoods. Chief of Detectives says that for the first half of 2019, there were 236 murders (The Sun Times had 241) and the clearance rate was 51 percent. More independent watchdog organizations have the murder count through August at 338 and the clearance rate for homicides is at 9.5%. The number of shootings is 1,847 and those arrest numbers are paltry as well. Why is there such a disparity between CPD’s numbers and the watchdogs? Why is there such urgency around Jussie Smollett and other high profile crimes around downtown and no urgency around violent crime in neighborhoods?
A group of local leaders from North Lawndale met with the Mayor a few weeks ago as part of a small delegation from United Power for Action & Justice. The leaders talked about decades of issues on their blocks and how police commanders and alderman have come and gone but they have been continuously plagued by problems on their blocks. Neighbors have been shot. Murders committed. Drug sales happening. Parties going on all hours of the night and no real response from the police. After our meeting with the Mayor, the police camera that wasn’t working was turned on and operational. There has been accountability around stopping this activity. The neighbors on that block feel safer for the first time in decades. This happened because of the Mayor’s leadership and our local leaders who are tired of the status quo.
Now for the bigger issue in terms of what we should be doing about crime, we have a proposal that will make a major dent in it. The short version is that we need to build a state of the art vocational school for young adults ages 18-24 primarily to gain the skills necessary to work in the construction, logistics and manufacturing arenas. Our proposal calls for the adaptive reuse of a building that is approximately 50,000 sf that will replicate the programs at Dawson Technical Institute on the south side, which is a part of the City Colleges of Chicago. The grand total for acquisition, renovation and soft costs is roughly $15 MM. The greatest impact on crime is a real, living wage job. These fields represent a path to the middle class without the debt of the university industrial complex. Instead of peace circles, behavorial therapy and well intended mentoring programs led by people that go back to their safe communities when the activity is over, we propose that our young leaders learn welding, brick masonry, carpentry, electrical, plumbing and tile setting skills. There is work in these fields for the foreseeable future and there is a shortage of skilled workers. Before you poke holes in my proposal, spend a day on large construction sites anywhere in the city and tell me that there is not a problem! From where I sit, we can’t afford to keep talking about solutions that are band-aids. People are poor because they don’t have money. Let’s solve the money problem and the crime problem will follow.