Chicago has a __________ Problem

It’s no secret that Chicago has a problem.

The stories are all over the local news and even make the national headlines in different months, but depending on who you are and where you get your news the reason for the problem varies.

Chicago's homicide problem
What is the main reason young black men are ending up shot, or killed in Chicago? (TLDR scroll down read the bold).


The word you choose to fill in the blank in the blog title may say as much about you, as it does about the problems facing this city.

If you said “crime” or “gang” problem, you might fall into one camp. While others would say “gun” problem. Another one often questions the moral character of the communities and people who are committing these shootings. As someone who has lived in both predominantly hispanic & black neighborhoods since I moved to Chicago in 1997, I have to say there is a an aspect of truth in all of them, but it’s not the problem.

Sure, while it usually has racist undertones, there is a community issue at work here. The terms “uneducated” & “working the system” usually follows close by when blaming the community, to which I wonder “what did you expect?” From the beginning of the Great Migration till 1968 the practice of “Redlining” (not allowing blacks to buy, or rent homes in certain areas) wasn’t illegal. Of course that needed more legal help in 1975 & 1977 and then a lawsuit against banks/lending companies from the mid-1980s to straight through today shows it hasn’t really stopped. Not to mention even if you could get a loan from a bank it would come with higher rates & fees, or your listing agent wouldn’t even show you properties that were available in some areas. A practice still going on today. So good luck moving into a neighborhood, or town where your child could get a better education, and you were closer to good jobs and able to meet individuals who controlled them. That all important network was out of reach for many.

Hell, until Chicago Mayor Harold Washington’s “Fair is fair” policy in the 1980s, most black neighborhoods in the south & west sides we lucky to get regular garbage service, street repairs, and god forbid the same resources in public schools. But yeah, I’m sure those things had nothing to do with the situation we’re in now, it’s just a community thing. “Those people never change. Where are their parents? How come they don’t teach them any manners?”

The guns issue is real and harder for me to disavow. The ease of buying a gun at a gun shows in Indiana (which borders the city limits) has made straw buyers the go to choice for getting weapons on the street. Lack of being able to track easily who buys a lot of guns and then reports them stolen, or missing makes it all the harder to get guns out of criminal’s hands by shutting down straw buyers. Yet, just like Donald trump suggestion we get rid of 11 million undocumented immigrants, getting rid of 30 million guns in this country is on par with Trump crazy and I truly feel the people who lead with “guns” as the reason for Chicago’s problem are just pushing an anti-gun agenda and haven’t been to the neighborhoods where this happens.

Crime & gangs are probably the most accurate reason for the problem, but ask yourself, what really is a gang short of an illegal business. Come on, we all love to get nostalgic about Al Capone and speak easies, but they were just illegal business. And the crimes that were committed where basically the jobs that people were hired to do for those businesses. Although even today the selling of drugs may really be taking a seat to people who are so down and out the only thing they have left is some misguided since of pride and are more likely to shoot someone over a social media feud than drug territory. I will admit, this isn’t really a level of expertise I have, but paying attention to murders that have happened, this isn’t exactly a one off story. It’s happened over and over just this year.

Which leads me to the real reason problem Chicago has; young black men can’t get a job.

In 2016 nearly 50% of young black men (20-24) were either out of work, or out of school. No word on if the number of them in prison was added to the roles. The number for teens is almost unbelievable, 88% of black male teens (hispanic teens are 85%) are unemployed. How do you learn job skills, showing up on time, not arguing with your boss, managing a paycheck, if you never had a summer, or part time job as a teen? Not to mention you lose out of references and past work experience to fill in on a job application. Would you hire a 23 year old who never worked before? The odds aren’t good, even if he might be a good employee.

I could start down the road of debate about work ethic and attitude, views often expressed as reasons why blacks aren’t hired for jobs, but at some percentage point you have to stop and ask. Is it really them? Are 88% of black males teens that unemployable, or are the opportunities just not there and the situations that surround them so far gone that crime is the only option? When you can’t even walk off your own block without fear of being shot, how are you suppose to cross town to get to an area that even has a job, if you can get hired? (if you read, or listen to one link I’ve put in this post I can’t recommend the last one for This American Life’s story on Harper High School in Chicago it is an eye opener).

So before you say Chicago needs more police, they need to be tougher, call in the national guard. Put more money in schools, violence prevention programs and after school programs, or suggest laws be changed to make it tougher to buy a gun, or to get out of prison when you illegally use a gun. Lets focus on getting some jobs in these areas. So teens can work in the summer and dads won’t leave their baby’s mother because they can’t provide. You get that unemployment number down by half of what it is now and I bet it will be a bigger game changer than anything else out there.

This is a JOBS problem.

(Very happy to see Arne Duncan say the same thing).

Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
What can be done to decrease the number of those touched by violence in Chicago?

The two photos above are from tragedies that happened just blocks from where I live.

Top photo: the murder of Michael Patton

Bottom photo: The murders of Jeremy D. Hunter & Steve Allen Tate