Why Does Chicago Put Up With This?

Chicago Civic Media
5 min readFeb 23, 2020

On your left is the face Chicago presented nationwide — on page 1 of the Chicago Sun-Times — for the 69th annual NBA All Star game played in Sunday evening in Chicago. 18 hours, 8 kids shot. Yet another sickening episode in the endless parade of war-zone violence that’s afflicted Chicago for 60 years.

The cost of this violence? Literally hundreds of thousands of Chicago lives lost to or destroyed by it. Billions of dollars spent (or wasted) each year on failed attempts to even reduce it. A city divided, paralyzed, numbed to inaction

Never to solve it. Never, as a people and as a city, to commit to making Chicago safe. As safe, perhaps, as New York (a relatively safe benchmark city).

And so it goes. On and on. A never-ending story.

Most Chicagoans have lost hope. Many never had it. They grew up in the 1990’s, when violence had already been out of control for two generations. Take, for instance, the group of four men in their 20’s I spoke with while waiting for an L train on the Green Line Central Avenue platform on Chicago’s far West Side Austin neighborhood, which is consistently Chicago’s number one or two neighborhood for homicides. I asked the group if things in Austin are going any better, violence-wise, since Mayor Lightfoot took office last May.

“Chicago is Chicago, man,” they said, in a chorus,”There’s always gonna be violence here. No matter who’s the mayor.” End of discussion. I got the message. No more talk. I looked around, saw a blue awning for a Day Care Center in the street below. Little Leaders of Tomorrow. Cute name. I took a photo. The place was shuttered. Steel bars, looked permanently closed.

Later I looked the Center up online. Glad I did. It’s open. And flourishing, to judge from its Facebook page. Scroll down to the 2-minute vid of the teachers step-dancing with the toddlers. It’s a heart-warmer.

Little Leaders of Tomorrow. I liked it. Especially because I’d just heard a speech in Austin by Emmerson Buie, Jr., Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Chicago Field Office. He’s the first African-American to be appointed to this position, as this Chicago Tribune piece confirms. Addressing an audience of some 100 guests gathered by the West Side NAACP, Buie received a standing ovation for summarizing his career-long commitment to being of service to the next generation of African Americans. To the Future Leaders of Tomorrow.

Afterwards he welcomed photo ops. I couldn’t resist:

But where in Chicago is the Leadership of Today? I think (and hope) Mayor Lightfoot could be the leader Chicago needs. But after nearly nine months into office and a recent rise in violence both on and off Chicago CTA trains, it’s fair to ask what she done to date to fulfill her campaign promises to work with Chicagoans to address violence (not around them, like previous mayors). What has she done to “mobilize the entire city” to address violence, as she promised at last May’s inauguration:

To lead the citywide response [to violence], we are creating a Mayor’s Office of Public Safety, to be led by a deputy mayor. That office will be charged with developing and implementing a comprehensive violence-prevention strategy that will connect efforts across city government, other aspects of the public sector, and nonprofit, philanthropic, education, recreation, business and faith communities. It will seek to mobilize the entire citybehind a unified strategy to prevent violence and promote public safety.

So far, the city isn’t mobilized. And while she’s touting her goal of making Chicago “the safest big city in the United States” to Chicago’s elite in meetings with ticket prices of $40 or $50, she’s yet to communicate this goal to the people of Chicago.

Her recent press releases throw little light on progress made towards solving or even reducing violence. But don’t count her out. Last August she somehow got not one but three Chicago TV stations — 5, 9 and 11 — to televise her State of the City address on city finances. A historic achievement: she was Chicago’s first mayor ever to use TV to connect, live and direct, with the people of Chicago.

If Mayor Lightfoot is as sharp as I think she is, she’s aware that by mobilizing the entire city she would be deploying what has always been Chicago’s most powerful (yet hitherto overlooked and even suppressed) anti-violence resource: the experience, ideas, cooperation and incredible energies of the people of Chicago.

And her use to TV to connect with Chicagoans last August suggests her awareness that Chicago’s second most powerful (and also hitherto largely unused) anti-violence resource is the community and mainstream media, especially network TV, that comprise Chicago’s public communication system.

Chicago’s media posses the digital tools needed to mobilize Chicagoans around the universally desired goal of making Chicago safe. Furthermore, they can use their tools to mobilize Chicagoans around a still larger and universally desired goal: that of making Sweet Home Chicago a great place to visit, work, play and raise a family in.

This trust-building, unifying use of media contrasts sharply with the existing market-driven uses of media in Chicago. Over the years these uses have left Chicagoans mistrustful, estranged or even polarized from each other. Given that all Chicagoans yearn for safety, however, there exists an enormous market for trust-building, problem-solving uses of TV and other media, as you see in the piece pictured below. There’s no reason why thoughtful, unifying uses of Chicago’s media can’t inform and engage Chicagoans in ways that create trust among all of the groups that are so estranged from each other: young people and police, blacks, Hispanics and whites, rich and poor and (most important) citizens and City Hall.

TV is key to this trust-building process because TV alone enables all Chicagoans to see and connect with each other at the same time. Only TV can enable Chicago, as a city, to pull its head out of the sand and begin to itself as safe as New York.

Here’s more about how it can be done:

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.



Chicago Civic Media

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