Nearly two years ago, the murder of U.S. Rep. Danny Davis’ 15-year-old grandson over a pair of gym shoes seemed to unite black elected officials in a way never before seen to combat the entrenched poverty fueling Chicago violence.
They came together to demand that at least 10 percent of all government funding be spent in neighborhoods where at least 20 percent of the population has lived below the poverty line for the past 30 years. That included nine or 10 “endangered” Chicago communities, including Englewood, Austin and West Garfield Park.
Nothing changed. When the media spotlight was turned off, the politicians moved on. The violence continued.
On Tuesday, the weekend bloodbath in Chicago that left 12 people dead and 71 people shot triggered a similar political reaction.
Davis convened yet another news conference, where 16 African-American leaders joined County Commissioner Tim Schneider, co-chair of the Illinois Republican Party, to demand an infusion of resources to address the underlying social problems, such as unemployment, driving the violence.
That includes job training and counseling for ex-offenders, homelessness, mental health services and parenting skills for grandparents raising their children’s children.
Dr. Janette Wilson, a senior adviser to the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, mocked Mayor Rahm Emanuel for saying the weekend violence was, in part, a “values problem” that starts in the home.
She argued that the real “values problem” is the “systemic problem of racism” that has deprived violence-ravaged inner-city neighborhoods of the resources they desperately need.
“There’s a values problem when you could provide resources to Lollapaloza and we’re not certain that same kind of allocation of resources will be available to the nine endangered communities, but also to the Bud Billiken parade this coming Saturday,” Wilson said.
“We have a values problem when … you close mental health facilities knowing full well that many of our children face post-traumatic stress syndrome. … We have a values problem when we think that over-policing is gonna solve the issue when you have parks around these neighborhoods that have … no adult supervised programs for our children. … We have a values problem when you see these schools have closed in our community and vacant buildings sitting there and children not getting the same education that they receive in other more affluent” neighborhoods.
State Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) pointed to the years-long feud between two old friends — Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner — that has prevented the two powerful politicians from working together to benefit Chicago neighborhoods that need it most.
“The mayor has a problem with the governor. Here they are, the leaders of the largest city … and the entire state. And they cannot sit down to figure out what is it that they need to do to get it done,” Hunter said.
“So I’m asking the mayor of Chicago. I’m asking the governor and the president of the Cook County Board, will you please sit down? If I need to call you all personally, I will. We are facing a crisis here in this state, especially in this city.”
Hunter then talked directly to the young people of Chicago who have turned to the streets because they feel no hope for a better life.
“I know you feel that we have let you down and we have let you down. … We’ve cut the social services budget on a continuous basis and we’ve asked the social services providers to do without, especially while the need is continuing to increase. That’s criminal,” she said.
“The city, county federal and state government…have not put together a major economic development plan to address the issues out here in the community.”
Former Chicago Police officer-turned Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) did not point a finger at the mayor, who has been under almost constant fire from his mayoral challengers in recent days.
Taliaferro simply said it’s time for African-American aldermen to “stop asking for more and start demanding more.”
As the hour-long news conference drew to a close, fellow West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) talked about the elephant in the room: the cost of rebuilding long-neglected South and West Side neighborhoods.
“Are we willing to sacrifice and make the payment? I look at the county. I look at the city. Our situations are in need of revenue, but nobody wants to pay the cost,” Ervin said.
“When that revenue vote comes up, we need everybody to be on board. Even you, Mr. Schneider. … We need you to say yes to the revenue needed to … cure some of the challenges we’re talking about. We’re trying to put 10 pounds of potatoes in a two-pound bag. Not only do we need another bag. We need the oven that’s baking the pies so we can make something happen here.”