Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Children Leading the Way in Chicago

The horrifying levels of gun violence in Chicago continue to be a major national news story and source of intense debate both in the Windy City and nationally. Mayor Rahm Emanuel's response has been characteristic of many big-city mayors: Respond to growing violence with more police officers on the streets. In other words, expand the reach of the criminal justice system in poor communities of color already disproportionately targeted for surveillance and incarceration.

Yesterday's Chicago Tribune offers a powerful, humbling example of how communities most directly impacted by such violence are capable of developing their own visions for reversing the tide of violence. On Monday, approximately three dozen teenagers walked out of their schools and led a march honoring 15-year-old Hadiya Pendelton, who recently died in a shooting.

In addition to mourning the loss of a fellow teenager and registering outrage about ever-increasing levels of violence on Chicago's streets, these wise youth challenged Emmanuel and the rest of the city to embrace holistic measures that would make south side communities safer for children:

"According to their plan, the girls and their supporters want Mayor Rahm Emanuel to create 2,000 part-time jobs and another 2,000 summer jobs specifically for youth. They want extended hours at their schools with an emphasis on social and recreational programs and they want parental involvement to become a mandatory condition of certain school programs."

This is a powerful testament to the ability of communities with the most direct relationship to social problems to generate solutions rooted in their daily experiences. Furthermore, it represents a forceful rebuke to those who would pose a false alternative between anarchy on the streets and the enhanced militarization thereof. 

Cities everywhere would be wise to listen to such wisdom.