Mayor Rahm Emanuel is not one to pull at the heartstrings. His way is more brittle and managerial. But in his speech on violence in Chicago on Thursday evening, he touched something deep when he talked of the young men who are “killing each other.”
“We have to stop them from giving up on themselves and their futures,” he said.
Everything wrong with Chicago, and everything right that must be done, could be found in that one sentence. Our city is being torn apart by young men who have given up on themselves and their futures. They join the gangs and shoot the guns that make our streets unsafe, but an army of cops and all the prisons in the world won’t stop them, not when they have given up on themselves. They think they’ve got nothing to lose.
Chicago will become a safer place when all our young people have a reason to believe. When parents raise them right. When mentors guide them. When we send them to better schools. When we give them a fighting chance at real jobs that pay decent wages, the kind that instill self-respect.
That’s not easy, but it is the reality. And, as the mayor said, getting the job done will take all of us.
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Emanuel’s much touted speech on public safety at Malcolm X College didn’t make much news. As expected, he announced he would hire about 970 new cops and training officers, though — also as expected — he didn’t say where he’d find the money. And, as expected, he vowed to invest public and private money into grassroots efforts to create jobs and bolster mentoring programs, such as Becoming a Man.
But if Emanuel did not roll out a sure-fire grand plan to quell Chicago’s violence, as if anybody could, the value of the speech was in its complexity, in its refusal to assign easy blame or point to simple solutions. The truth of the matter, the mayor said, is that the solution to Chicago’s gun violence is all of the above — involved families and good parenting, community support and mentoring, better policing and tougher penalties for gun crimes, and more and better jobs.
And the mayor, choking up with emotion, wrapped it all up with words that suggested an abiding belief in the human spirit, the notion that criminals are not born but made. Too many of our young people, he said, have never been given “a moral choice.”
Emanuel was at his most specific when discussing the “enforcement” component of his three-part approach to countering gun violence. He would hire more beat cops, detectives and training officers. He would install gunshot-tracing cameras in the most violence police districts, and end the revolving prison door of repeat gun offenders.
He called for passage — are you listening, Springfield? — of two state bills that we have championed. The first would encourage judges to hit repeat gun offenders with longer sentences. The second would create a state gun shop license to make it easier for local police to shut down those shops that make zero effort to weed out “straw buyers” — middle-men who buy guns by the dozens to resell to gangs.
But the difficulty of the task before our city became apparent when Emanuel moved to the second part of his plan: creating jobs. He talked of what he’s done so far, such as partnering with Starbucks to create 2,000 jobs, but he didn’t offer much else. He didn’t say — or couldn’t say — what’s next, except to note that the city is building up a Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, which now has nearly $8 million, to invest in small businesses.
Hiring cops is easy, if you can find the money. Creating good and lasting jobs is hard.
But it was when Emanuel talked about the third part of his plan — building the character of young people — that he grew most passionate. He vowed the city would invest $36 million over the next three years to expand mentoring programs. “Teaching responsibility should not be a taboo subject for our city,” he said. “Our kids need it.”
Anybody looking for a big speech that would rescue Chicago had to be disappointed. The particulars were revealed days before.
But the mayor clearly was reaching for something deeper, and in this we hope he succeeded. We fail our city, he was saying — and we fail our humanity — when we allow so many young people to grow up with little notion of right or wrong, no reason to believe in life’s possibilities and no sense of belonging to the larger society.
“They haven’t had a choice,” he said.
Emanuel revisited the chilling story of how two such men last year lured a 9-year-old boy, Tyshawn Lee, into an alley and shot him dead.
“Not once did a light bulb go off in their head,” Emanuel said, “that ‘what we are about to do is wrong.'”
All the cops in the world can’t fix that. It is the job for all of us.
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