Saturday, October 17, 2009

A conversation with experts on street violence: the kids in the middle of it

Yesterday, at the request of Steven Levitt, author of the best selling book, Freakonomics, a group of us sat down with 10 young men from the neighborhood who are insiders to the escalating violence we have been seeing on the streets and in and around the Chicago Public Schools. We asked them what they thought about possible solutions.

They were eager to share their thoughts and ideas (especially since we paid them cash to do it!) Most seemed to agree there are no easy solutions.

Question: What if you were promised $5,000 if you stayed in school and got good grades?

Answer: I would use the $5,000 to buy myself some work (drugs) and turn it into $10,000 very quickly.

Question: How hard is it for you to get guns?

Answer: Very hard… later… sure I’ve had lots of guns. I need a gun for protection.

Question: Would more police help?

Answer: Sure if they did their job. They planted drugs on me and hauled me in. They picked me up for no reason and dropped me off in a community where they knew I would be in danger. They let us go if we give them a couple of guns and they use the guns later to plant them on us when they want to take us in.

Question: Are gangs a problem in the schools?

Answer: Yes, and not just the big gangs. It could be between floors. Like, don’t come up on the second floor unless you have a class, or don’t come over to the east side of the school if you don’t want to get beat up. There are little clicks and groups.

I wish I could capture the conversation better. There were times I could barely understand what was being said because of such heavy code language.

The “old heads”, former gang leaders, get out of prison and come back and think they can run things, but there are new leaders in place. That causes conflict.

Natasha, who was killed at a bus stop on Madison last week, happened to be standing next to a couple of guys who had killed Little Jim a few weeks earlier. It was retaliation and Natasha was hit by mistake.

Madison Avenue is the dividing street right now between the Black Souls and the Unknowns.

Hip hop sets the standard. If Li’l Wayne would rap the times tables that's what they'd be doing.

There are people out there who ain’t got no one.

Sometimes the streets show you more love.

Guys get bored. There’s nothing to do. We need jobs.

Question: What would you suggest as solutions?

Answer: More places like Breakthrough. (Honestly, I didn’t set them up!) Everyone loves basketball and we need to learn how to do stuff like woodworking, auto mechanics, how to build a house. If I knew how to build a house, I would build one for you right now. (He said to the guy next to him.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Youth Violence in East Garfield Park

This has been a tragic week in our neighborhood. On Wednesday, Natasha Howliet, a 20 year old mother of three was gunned down at a bus stop on the day of her three year old's birthday. She was a graduate of West Town Academy, 2021 W. Fulton St., and worked at KMart. Someone in a red car shot into the group of bystanders, probably hoping to hit the guys standing near her who still have not been located.

On Friday night, Stacey Adams, 22, was gunned down and killed in East Garfield Park. Terrence Gallaway, 28, has been charged with his murder.

On Tuesday a 23 year old young man was shot in the leg. When police tried to apprehend the shooter he fired at them!

Last Sunday, Demetrius Watson, 23, from East Garfield Park was found shot to death in the Little Village neighborhood.

The violence in Chicago is making national news and much of it is right in my neighborhood. I have heard there is a turf war going on between a couple of the local gangs. This is prime territory for the drug trafficking business

Sadly, I don't think there are any quick fixes. Young men who have been tossed aside, profiled because of the color of their skin and not challenged to believe in their future, feel they have little to lose in this war. They are the victims of generational poverty and institutional racism.

A 17 year old who participated in the Fenger mob scene a few weeks ago that left Derrion Albert beaten to death remarked, "I don't think a new day is promised to nobody. Anything could happen at any time." The Tribune ran an interesting article about why they fight.

We recently interviewed young men for our new Launch Pad program at Breakthrough. Launch Pad is a residential leadership development program for 18 to 24 year old men. We were deeply saddened by their stories. Most of them have recently come out of the foster care system and at age 18 are tossed to the streets with nothing.

I wish we had room for hundreds of these young men at Breakthrough. It is urgent that we grow this program.