Does Chicago Want to Solve Violence and Make Itself as Safe as New York?

Graphic courtesy Chicago Sun-Times 2/3/19 (updated weekly)

by Steve Sewall

2/7/19 This piece frequently rethought/revised — read the latest version!

Will big money (see above) decide yet another Chicago mayoral election on February 26? Or will 2.7 million Chicagoans finally get what Chicago needs most: a citywide commitment to making Chicago safe for all residents?

So far the candidates talk only about reducing violence. About making Chicago less dangerous. As in past mayoral elections.

And what have six decades of violence reduction given Chicago?

Six decades of wartime levels of violence with no end in sight.

Violence reduction hasn’t worked. It’s not a strategy. Just a set of uncoordinated tactics. It pours billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars into desperate, last-ditch attempts by hugely undermanned resources — public safety and public health professionals — to reduce, prevent, contain, curb, or crack down on violence.

The result? More violence. More tragedy. Yet violence is solvable. New York solved it. So can Chicago. In a uniquely Chicago way. One that cities nationwide will emulate. Here it is:

Because violence is so deeply entrenched in Chicago, solving it here is perforce a citywide undertaking.

And this means tapping deep into what is far and away Chicago’s most powerful (yet heretofore overlooked) anti-violence resource: the experience, intelligence, insights, wisdom and enormous energies of all 2.7 million Chicagoans.

This process must be visible and accessible to all Chicagoans. Which means tapping deep into the resources of Chicago’s second most powerful (and equally overlooked) anti-violence resource: the media that comprise Chicago’s public communication system.

Violence is substantially a public communication problem: one of massive communication breakdowns among Chicagoans (e.g. young people and police) and between Chicagoans and City Hall.

So how to repair these breakdowns? How to put Chicagoans and City Hall on the same page where they can talk and work together?

Chicago is a media-driven city. Its best future will take shape only when media-savvy Chicagoans from all over the city — students, politicians, city planners, academics, foundations, businesses, police, citizens, faith and neighborhood groups, and (of course) Chicago’s media — are busy answering these two questions.

To this end, two suggestions.

First, consider connecting Chicagoans and City Hall in Chicago’s media in ways that are

  • Rule-governed and impartially refereed, to earn the trust and respect of Chicagoans and City Hall alike

Second, consider creating prime-time, interactive public forums — digital town squares, televised citywide — that incorporate these five ways.

Here’s one: a prime-time TV show called Chicago FIXIT. Easily it suffices to get the violence-solution ball rolling.

It’s riveting. Tweaking the powerful, voter-driven, American-Idol reality TV format, FIXIT conducts contested searches by small teams of smart, telegenic Chicago problem solvers for best solutions to violence, large and small, with winning teams and solutions decided by expert analysis and, ultimately, viewer votes.

FIXIT puts Chicago in touch with itself in productive, rule-governed ways that keep Chicagoans of all ages, races and backgrounds on the edge of their seats.

FIXIT’s unique rules make informed problem-solvers of all Chicagoans. They keep FIXIT impartial, non-partisan, non-ideological, issue-centered and 100% transparent.

Once it airs, FIXIT transforms Chicago politics overnight. It’s a major Chicago event, the talk of the town, a turning point in Chicago history.

Chicago’s media cover and critique FIXIT’s citywide drive to solve violence much as they cover and critique the championship drives of Chicago’s beloved sports teams.

Who foots the bill for shows like FIXIT? Socially-responsible Chicago corporations, among others, rush to sponsor FIXIT and its huge, citywide/region-wide audience.

That’s it. A wakeup call for media-savvy Chicagoans. It’s up to us to help a fractured, industrial-age I Will City reinvent itself as a connected, digital-age We Will City.

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Steve Sewall, Ph.D., is a Chicago educator, media entrepreneur and Director of Chicago Civic Media.

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Making citizens and governments responsive and accountable to each other at all levels of government with impartial, problem-solving political discourse.