In impoverished communities desperate for investment, vandalism does not help

Even minority business owners may be reluctant to invest in communities where there is ongoing violence.

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This Walgreens at 8628 South Cottage Grove Ave., shown here on June 1, was boarded up after being damaged during citywide protests.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

I mostly agree with the Chicago activist Ja’Mal Green that too many minority communities are neighborhoods without investments. Investors may hesitate to invest, however, in communities with high levels of violence. A classic “Catch 22.”

I am an African American retired from the practice of law, where I focused on civil rights advocacy. I litigated civil rights cases in federal court, as well as administrative civil rights cases before the EEOC, the Illinois Human Rights Commission and the Merit Systems Protection Board.

I also investigated systemic fair housing discrimination cases as a senior investigator with the Chicago Region V HUD Office of Fair Housing, from 1977 through 1986. My wife and I were subject to employment and housing discrimination years ago that resulted in litigation. This background has made me very aware of the problems facing many minority communities in Chicago.

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These communities desperately need long-term economic investment in the form of new businesses, stores, etc. However, even minority business owners may be reluctant to invest in communities where there is ongoing violence. If the violence is because of the lack of investments, but that violence also dissuades investments, then what? Solutions become even more elusive.

That is why looting and vandalism in minority neighborhoods is so tragic. The frustration felt by many of those living in impoverished communities is understandable. Vandalizing businesses, though, only exasperates an already bad situation.

Several Walgreens on the South Side are now, according to the company’s website, “temporarily closed.” I passed the CVS store at 87th and Stony Island last week and noticed that it, too, was still closed.

I experienced the impact of these closings firsthand a couple of weeks ago when I went to pick up medication at the Walgreens at 55th Street and Lake Park. There was an unusually long line of more than 30 people and a 45-minute wait. Why? Because two nearby Walgreens had been vandalized and were closed. Patrons from those stores were lining up at the Hyde Park Walgreens.

I admit I have no idea how to solve this complex problem. But I think a starting point has to be a broader recognition that unless both sides of the issues are addressed — the need for investment and the need to protect the incentives for that investment — it may be difficult to solve either problem.

Robert Whitfield, Hyde Park

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